Reject Harmful Special Needs Vouchers in Wisconsin!

26 March 2014 -- Success!  Special needs vouchers were STOPPED in Wisconsin this year.  Thank you for raising your voices!

Please be sure to note in the "optional comment" field if you are a parent/family member of a student with special needs (or an educator, community member, etc.), and why you oppose the vouchers -- the committee will want to know!  

If you care about strengthening and protecting public education in Wisconsin for students with disabilities -- please sign this petition/open-letter to the Wisconsin Education Committees!

In Wisconsin, a special needs voucher proposal keeps coming back to put students with disabilities in Wisconsin at risk.  The Senate Education Committee held a public hearing on Thursday 2/13, and the chair of the committee was outspokenly interested in the comments on the signatures we turned in!  Now the Assembly Education Committee will be meeting on Wednesday 2/19, and we need as many signatures as possible to let them know:

Special needs vouchers are wrong for our students, wrong for our state.  The proposal offer risks to the students who would use the vouchers to attend private schools, and harm to the students who remain in public schools. 

The vouchers would undermine the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which gives students rights and protections in public schools but does not apply in private voucher schools.  The vouchers would also drain funding from public school districts statewide, that have to educate all students regardless of disability.  Private voucher schools, meanwhile, would get to pick and choose.  Students with more complex disabilities will remain at the public schools, while the funding drains away.

No established statewide disability organization in Wisconsin supports special needs vouchers!

Please read the petition letter for more information, and then join the families of Stop Special Needs Vouchers Wisconsin by signing the petition and then sending it on to your Wisconsin friends and contacts who care about public education and students with disabilities!

We are parents and family members of students with disabilities; students and graduates of public-school special education; educators and community members and taxpayers of Wisconsin. 

Together we urge you to reject SB525/AB682, the latest revision of a bill that would create a statewide special needs voucher program in Wisconsin.   As with previous failed special needs vouchers proposals, this bill would be risky for the students who would take the vouchers, and harmful to students with disabilities in public schools and their classmates. 

In Wisconsin and across the country, students with disabilities have the right to a free and appropriate public education, with legally enforceable protections, through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).  Unfortunately, the rights and protections of the IDEA do not apply in private voucher schools, and this special needs voucher bill does not change that. Private voucher schools are not required to have therapists or special educators on staff, and Wisconsin's existing voucher program has an unfortunate history of expelling or "counseling out" students with disabilities.

The bill puts no limit on the number of vouchers that could be granted statewide, reducing funding available for every school district in the state. While the recent statewide voucher expansion specified that schools must be in existence for at least two years before qualifying to take vouchers, the new special needs voucher bill makes no such provision, leaving the doors wide open for fly-by-night schools to choose Wisconsin solely to take advantage of the vouchers, and of some of Wisconsin's most vulnerable students.

We have seen just such a shady-operator disaster with LifeSkills Academy, the failed voucher school in Milwaukee that abandoned 66 Wisconsin students when they closed overnight in December.  The school’s founders moved to Florida to declare sudden expertise in special education, opening a new school that immediately qualified for that state’s special needs voucher program. According to the Department of Public Instruction, LifeSkills Academy would also qualify for special needs vouchers in Wisconsin under this proposed bill.  This is unconscionable.

In addition, the bill does not require private voucher schools to educate all students regardless of disability, the way public schools must.  Private voucher schools can cherry-pick only the students they think will be easier to educate, while our already-underfunded public schools will have even fewer resources to fulfill their responsibilities to educate our students with the most complex challenges. 

Finally, the bill requires families to receive a denial of an open enrollment request to transfer their student to another public school district before qualifying for a special needs voucher.  Far from fixing existing issues in the open enrollment program, this provision would result in families seeking an open enrollment denial on purpose, just another hoop to jump through in order to claim a voucher.

We are deeply opposed to this latest attempt to pull public money out of public schools and into private schools where students with disabilities surrender their rights at the door, if the door is even open to them.  We call upon the Education Committee to reject SB525/AB682, and to work instead toward improving open enrollment and restoring special education funding for Wisconsin’s public schools.

Update #25 years ago
The open letter in opposition to the special needs vouchers, with all your signatures and comments, was presented to the Wisconsin Assembly Committee on Education at a public hearing on February 19, 2014. We had planned to close the petition at that point, but the committee has not voted as of Feb. 21 and committee members are indeed paying attention to the petition... so new signatures and comments are still crucial! Please share, and share again -- and thank you, so very much!
Update #15 years ago
On Thu. 2/13, we presented 391 signatures opposing special needs vouchers to the WI Senate Ed. Committee. The committee chair was outspokenly interested to read your comments! Now, the Assembly Education Committee has scheduled a hearing Wed. 2/19. Can we get 1000 signatures, and a ton of comments, by 2/19? Please forward the petition widely, then contact your WI state legislators to ask them to oppose the vouchers! Legislator contact info:
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