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WILL’s “Alternative Facts” on Special Needs Voucher Expansion

You know you’ve struck a nerve when a lavishly-funded law firm starts publicly attacking volunteer grassroots advocacy groups.

In a post on September 11, the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL) produced a startling collection of “alternative facts” on the subject of special needs vouchers.  The post seizes upon four true statements made by Rep. Katrina Shankland during the Joint Finance Committee brief discussion before the party-line passage of an unvetted expansion of special needs vouchers, without opportunity for public testimony.  WILL then spins its readers down a rabbit hole where up is down, fact is myth, and parents who care about public education for students with disabilities are “special interest groups.”

The post may have been occasioned by Rep. Shankland’s pointing out the striking similarity between the Joint Finance special needs voucher expansion motion and a wish-list that WILL had published only days before.  Here was Rep. Shankland’s true statement on that score:

  • “(WILL) is getting their way when a lot of different parents groups, disability rights groups, and education professionals are asking for a fair shot for all of our kids.”  TRUE (even if WILL says otherwise)

WILL’s response:

This is most accurate if you replace “parents groups” with “special interest groups opposed to school choice.” …

Shankland is basing this on statements made about the SNSP made by anti-school choice groups, like Stop Special Needs Vouchers Wisconsin, who put out a press release following the passage of the bill that included some complaints from parents, Disability Rights Wisconsin, the teachers’ unions, and other groups. 

Let’s be clear: the parents of Stop Special Needs Vouchers and other all-volunteer grassroots organizations standing up for public education across the state of Wisconsin are not “special interest groups.” Our passionate, heartfelt dismay at the expansion of a program that undercuts our children’s neighborhood schools and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act is much more than “some complaints.” And the idea that the Stop Special Needs Vouchers press release somehow speaks for teachers’ unions or any other group is simply laughable.

WILL’s post failed to include the list of organizations that co-signed an open letter to the Joint Finance Committee requesting that the special needs voucher program NOT be expanded.  Those groups, whose names Rep. Shankland read aloud at the JFC meeting, are listed below; some are all-volunteer, all are non-partisan, and not one single organization on the list deserves to be dismissed as a “special interest group.”

  • Autism Society of South Central Wisconsin
  • Autism Society of Southeastern Wisconsin
  • Autism Society of Wisconsin
  • Citizen Advocates for Public Education, Lake Mills
  • Community Advocates for Public Education, Middleton-Cross Plains
  • Disability Rights Wisconsin
  • Mental Health America of Wisconsin
  • NAMI Wisconsin
  • Parents for Public Schools of Milwaukee
  • Saint Croix Valley Friends of Public Education
  • School Funding Reform for Wisconsin, Stevens Point
  • Stop Special Needs Vouchers
  • Support Sun Prairie Schools
  • Survival Coalition of Wisconsin Disability Organizations
  • The Arc of Wisconsin
  • Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools
  • Wisconsin Board for People with Developmental Disabilities
  • Wisconsin Council of Administrators of Special Services
  • Wisconsin Council of the Blind & Visually Impaired
  • Wisconsin Family Ties

 WILL also “alternative-facted” three other true statements.

  • “No data or evidence based research to show that students receive better outcomes in special needs voucher program.”  TRUE (even if WILL says otherwise)

What are the graduation rates for special needs voucher students compared to their public school peers? How do their academic achievements in reading and math compare? What about employment rates after leaving school?  Nobody knows.  The research does not exist.  The WILL blogpost manages to point to one lone 2003 report emanating from a free-market think tank, based solely on parental-satisfaction interviews with special needs voucher recipients in Florida.  This does not qualify as a research evidence base for comparative outcomes, by any stretch of the imagination.

  • “These kids lose their federal protections under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.”  TRUE (even if WILL says otherwise)

If anyone would like to fact-check this statement, a good place to start would be DPI’s “Comparison of Rights of Students with Disabilities and their Families under State and Federal Special Education Law and under the Wisconsin Special Needs Scholarship Program” document.  IDEA is not, and has never been, a “menu of services,” as WILL insinuates – and anyone with even a minimal understanding of special education law knows better than this.

  • “In that second year… (SNSP participating schools) are reimbursed for 90 percent of the cost, whether it’s 250, 500,000 or even a million dollars…”  TRUE (even if WILL says otherwise)

Rep. Shankland’s point about the lack of any upper bound on the revised funding structure is factually based on the motion text. WILL scoffs at the idea that any special needs voucher school would take advantage of the lack of cost-control in the proposal – but why in the world would we allow it, if we don’t want it to happen?

The parents of Stop Special Needs Vouchers stand by our call to Governor Walker to veto these unvetted, unnecessary, and underhanded expansions to the special needs voucher program.

– Contact: Kelli Simpkins, stopspecialneedsvouchers@gmail.com


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Parent Quotes

“We should not even be considering a new voucher program when the current vouchers are so flawed!” — Tari from Madison, mother to Patrick

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