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The heart of the matter

February 29, 2012

This week the Senate Committee on Education held a hearing on SB 486, creating a voucher program for children with special needs funded by taking resources away from local public schools.

Parents of children with special needs were at the hearing in full force, some advocating for the legislation and others opposing it.  Their testimony tugged at the heart-strings.  It was moving and compelling as parents shared the struggles and triumphs of their children with special needs.  Parents and advocates on both sides of the issue urged committee members to do what is best for the children.

As always, the devil is in the details.  Parents using a voucher to send their child to a participating private school under the bill would lose their rights to special education and would have no remedy if the school failed to implement a child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP).  Private schools that accept the voucher would not be required to have special education teachers or related services staff.  And what about the children with special needs that remain in the public schools?  Resources for them would be stripped away to fund the voucher program, jeopardizing the ability of the local public school district to meet the needs of its students.  The diversion of resources would be on top of the $1.6 billion in cuts to public schools included in the 2011-13 state budget. 

So who is backing this legislation?  Organizations representing school boards, school administrators or educators?  No.  How about Disability Rights Wisconsin that represents the families of children with disabilities?  No.  School Choice Wisconsin?  YES.

In fact the voucher movement, funded in part by the American Federation for Children, is pushing special needs vouchers in several states.  A spokesman for the AFC had this to say:  “Our opposition is more worried about appearing that they’re standing in the way of special-needs kids’ getting a good education.  We don’t really care [about] the reason they don’t oppose the legislation.  If we can benefit from that reticence, … we’re OK with that.”

Using children with special needs to expand vouchers and privatize public education?  Heartbreaking.

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