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They're trying to loot public education in Wisconsin.

And they're trying to take advantage of families like mine, with kids like my daughter, to do it.

I wrote those words last May in my first Piratizing Special Education in Wisconsin diary.  Rep. Michele Litjens (R) had introduced an ALEC model bill in the Wisconsin Assembly, almost without changing a word: the so-called Special Needs Scholarship Program.  This school-voucher bill took aim at public-school students with disabilities, such that any student with an Individualized Education Plan, regardless of family income, could pick up their public-school tax dollars and go spend them at a private school.

The students who used the vouchers to go private would lose all their federal rights under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).  The private schools that took them would have had no obligation to provide an appropriate education, but of course would have access to all that lovely taxpayer money.  The students with disabilities left behind in public schools would have shrunken resources.  It was a trainwreck -- so bad that even in Walker's Wisconsin, the bill didn't make it out of the Assembly Education Committee.

Guess what?  AB110 is back with a slightly-tweaked substitute amendment, and it's suddenly on a fast track to ram through in the next couple of weeks.

More below the cheese curd:

Here's how Ruth Conniff described the ALEC model bill Tuesday in a hard-hitting piece in The Progressive yesterday (Wis. Republicans and ALEC Push Vouchers on Disabled Kids):

A particularly noxious piece of “school reform” legislation, drafted by ALEC (The American Legislative Exchange Council) and pushed by Republicans in statehouses around the country, would get unsophisticated parents to swap their kids’ federally protected right to a free, appropriate public education for school vouchers of highly dubious value to the kids.
Now, of course there are some fine special-needs private schools out there.  In Ohio & Florida, the two states where the program has already been in place the longest, there are certainly some satisfied families who used the vouchers to make the jump.  But then there are the horror stories from an expose last year in Florida, as I wrote about in FL Special Needs Vouchers: "Using Disabled School Kids as Lab Rats":
Two hundred students were crammed into ever-changing school locations, including a dingy strip-mall space above a liquor store and down the hall from an Asian massage parlor. Eventually, fire marshals and sheriffs condemned the "campus" as unfit for habitation, pushing the student body into transience in church foyers and public parks.
The horror-stories come about due to a lack of accountability in the legislation, coupled with a lack of interest on the part of the state for doing anything about it!

The new iteration of AB110 and its newly-introduced copy in the state Senate, SB486, have spoken at least nominally to a few of the concerns.  The legislation now does say that the voucher school must honor the Individualized Education Plan the student comes in with (but has no enforcement mechanism nor any provisions for updating the plan from year to year.)  The voucher schools must at least be accredited now, a measure that was totally missing from the first version!

But the problems still remain -- the loss of accountability and rights for voucher students, the sucking of resources from the students with disabilities who remain in the public schools, the overall damage to the public school system to the benefit of the private schools.   (That last one's not a bug, it's a feature... privatization equals piratization, with the taxpayer-supplied plunder flowing steadily out of the increasingly weakened public school system.)

NO disability organization in Wisconsin is in favor of AB110.  Here are additional objections as articulated by the Disability Action Wisconsin Network:

-- No special educators, related service providers, or other staff with disability expertise are required to be available at schools that accept vouchers.

-- Private schools could accept the vouchers, then kick out the student and the student would have no rights to challenge the expulsion.

-- There is no limit on how much tuition a voucher school could charge. Families may be required to pay additional tuition beyond the voucher amount, resulting in no access for low-income families.

-- The voucher amount does not cover the full cost of educating students with more significant disabilities. This could result in the school rejecting those students or charging additional tuition which would mean low-income families could not access the vouchers.

If all this weren't enough, here's an extra tidbit to make your head spin (particularly for the locals who've been following Wisconsin politics for a while).  Again per Ruth Conniff:
Two of the biggest players in the national school choice movement—Wisconsin’s disgraced former assembly speaker Scott Jensen, who pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge, and Brian Pleva, former spokesman for the Wisconsin Assembly Republican Campaign Committee, both now of the American Federation for Children—came to Madison recently to talk special ed vouchers...
(emphasis mine)

Again, these bills are on an incredibly fast track.  The press release about the substitute amendment in the Assembly went out just last Thursday 2/16, same day as the measure was introduced in the Senate; today (Wed. 2/22) the Assembly Education Committee was to vote on AB110 in executive session -- no need for a public hearing on the substitute amendment, as they already had one on the original ALEC model last May.  It's rumored that the Senate Education Committee will hold a hearing Tuesday 2/28; they want this thing PASSED before the current legislative session ends March 15.

Wisconsin Kossacks: please help push back!  E-mails, phone calls to legislators (Who Are My Legislators?), testimony either written or in person at next week's hearing.

For the quick 5-minute advocacy version, the Wisconsin Educators Association Council (WEAC) has put up this nifty site for generating messages to your state legislators in opposition to the special needs voucher plunder.

Please, take five minutes and send a message now!

Originally posted to AnnieJo on Wed Feb 22, 2012 at 07:45 PM PST.

Also republished by Badger State Progressive and ClassWarfare Newsletter: WallStreet VS Working Class Global Occupy movement.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (26+ / 0-)

    If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality. - Bishop Desmond Tutu

    by AnnieJo on Wed Feb 22, 2012 at 07:45:14 PM PST

  •  It looks like there may not be much (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    you can do to change things, at least in the short run. Perhaps things will not be as bad as your worst fears, and may actually not be so bad in the end. Sometimes we fear change but after we experience it we are actually better off. Hopefully that will be the case here.

    •  In Wisconsin (7+ / 0-)

      we are still singing every day in the Capitol, even on days that it doesn't look as if we can change things.

      We will contest the corporatist agenda every last inch of the way.

      In addition, I think that maybe you need to read a little bit more about the so-called "school choice" movement....

      If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality. - Bishop Desmond Tutu

      by AnnieJo on Wed Feb 22, 2012 at 08:02:31 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  I'm against the movement, who around (0+ / 0-)

        here isn't? But I'm also a political realist, and when the tide is against you things usually get worse before they get better. When something bad is going to happen to you no matter what, whether a progressing disease or something like this, sometimes it is healthier to try to make it work as much as possible for you rather than resist it and be unhappy or miserable. So resist, but don't resist once the cause is lost. You are better off saving up your energy to fight when the political winds are again at your back.

        •  This is not the time to stop fighting. (8+ / 0-)

          First off, it's not entirely clear that this particular cause is lost, with the Republican majority down to one vote in the Senate.

          Second, silence can be taken for assent.  We don't want ANYONE to be able to look back at this bill and say we laid down and took it quietly.

          If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality. - Bishop Desmond Tutu

          by AnnieJo on Wed Feb 22, 2012 at 08:17:01 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  I agree 100%. (0+ / 0-)

            I think you continue to resist. I just am saying that since the likelihood of success this year is relatively low, that - should you continue to lose - that at some point you do try to make the best of it, for your own sanity if nothing else. No use being miserable because your state is going through a periodic bout of Republicanism.

            •  Your argument feels counterproductive to me (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:

              as a response to an action diary, though I think I can see where you're coming from.

              Each of us will, indeed, have to figure out how to live with -- and be sane through -- what is happening in our own neck of the woods.  For me, part of how I keep going is to continue the fight.  Your mileage may vary, but please don't undercut/minimize my particular call-to-action because you're finding your equilibrium in a different place!

              If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality. - Bishop Desmond Tutu

              by AnnieJo on Thu Feb 23, 2012 at 03:27:34 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  Yeah. No thanks to that "helpful" advice. Blech. (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:

                To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public. - Theodore Roosevelt 1918

                by JVolvo on Fri Feb 24, 2012 at 07:05:38 AM PST

                [ Parent ]

            •  It's time to fight. (4+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              AnnieJo, koosah, Roy Ellefson, peptabysmal

              The likelihood of success is high. We got a million signatures to throw out Walker. The state is energized at the grassroots, and we're building towards not just the recall but the fall elections. State and federal judiciary are uncovering the stench of corruption in both the executive and legislative branches.

              This is NOT the time to "make the best of it".

              The Will of the People shall be the Law of the Land. - Robert M. LaFollette

              by stcroix cheesehead on Thu Feb 23, 2012 at 04:14:33 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

    •  Writing to your reps will have an impact! (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      AnnieJo, koosah, maybeeso in michigan

      I was in a representative's office yesterday, and she was reviewing several emails she'd just received about this very issue.  The thing had resurfaced so rapidly she had to check to find out its status, something she might not have noticed if she hadn't read the emails.  
      They do pay attention to what people send them, even the mass-emails.  At least the good ones do.

      "You take people as far as they will go, not as far as you would like them to go." - Jeannette Rankin

      by Cady Brownell on Thu Feb 23, 2012 at 04:31:38 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Thanks for this, Cady! (3+ / 0-)

        When I called my state Senator's office (Risser) on Monday morning, and spoke to his go-to staffer on disability issues, they hadn't yet heard anything about it at all.  The number of contacts needs to grow, fast...

        We have the chance to really make our voices heard here!

        If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality. - Bishop Desmond Tutu

        by AnnieJo on Thu Feb 23, 2012 at 04:36:01 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  This seems to mesh with your situation. (3+ / 0-)

    They are successfully stripping the tax money from the public schools.

    Wed Feb 22, 2012 at 07:10 PM PST
    Many more FL schools may fail next year due to deal to get NCLB waivers. +*

    by floridagalFollow
    permalink     3 Comments  /  1 New

    The deal will mean that ESE students, mostly learning disabled and profoundly learning disabled will have their test scores count in the grade for the school. Florida schools are graded on an A to F basis, and many more are expected to be considered failures if the new plan is approved.

    Democrats - We represent America!

    by phonegery on Wed Feb 22, 2012 at 08:04:04 PM PST

    •  Interesting. (6+ / 0-)

      Part of what's happening with the vouchers in Florida is that public schools are actually nudging students with disabilities out onto the voucher program, preferring to lose the money rather than have these kids' test scores "count against" the school.  I wonder if the NCLB waiver deal will accelerate that?

      On a broader level, there are strong voices in the disability community that want test scores counted, to force the schools to contend with the issue of improving education for students with disabilities as well.  (Assuming that improved test score is an accurate proxy for improved education...)  

      If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality. - Bishop Desmond Tutu

      by AnnieJo on Wed Feb 22, 2012 at 08:11:21 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Sent my messages, AnnieJo (6+ / 0-)

    The way the Republicans are ramming bills through the legislature is disgusting.  These are NOT things that people asked for.  This is about the Republicans privatizing everything and anything they can get their hands on.  They're not even taking time to vet these bills properly!  This is shameful.  The way they're screwing around with education with ZERO input from those who know best (parents and educators) about what their children need cries out for vengeance.  

    PS  The WEAC site made it really easy to contact my State Senator and Assemblywoman.  

    We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can't have both. Louis D. Brandeis

    by 3goldens on Wed Feb 22, 2012 at 08:07:33 PM PST

    •  Thanks so much, 3goldens. (4+ / 0-)

      Moulton and Galloway are both co-sponsors in the Senate...

      Vengeance = RECALL!!

      If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality. - Bishop Desmond Tutu

      by AnnieJo on Wed Feb 22, 2012 at 08:13:48 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  What^3G said, also anything I can do from up here (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        AnnieJo, 3goldens

        to support all of you who are out there almost everyday, let me know. Letters sent. Recall sigs gathered. Managed to donate (limited $) as I  can, and other things as they come up. Pales in comparison to everyone in Madisons dedication. Solidary singers :-D

    •  They know they'll lose their senate majority soon (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      AnnieJo, JVolvo

      with the recalls, so they're getting through everything they can as fast as possible.  With no filibuster option in Wisconsin, the minority Dems can't really do anything to stall or threaten a stall.  (Which is the whole reason the 14 left the state a year ago.  They would have preferred a filibuster, but had to settle for a quorum buster instead.  And the thing about a quorum buster is you can't keep doing it for every bill.)

      I checked out the who are my legislators site and I still have no idea because I don't know how to read through the legal statement about new versus old districts.  I lived in a very strong Democratic district, but I've been gerrymandered into a "rural" district now (despite living in the city) with a Republican Legislator.  I can't tell which of them is currently in effect.

      •  A couple of thoughts... (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        peptabysmal, 3goldens, JVolvo

        Technically it's the old maps that are still in effect.  The loophole that the GOP is using to create confusion is that if a "new-map" legislator wants to, s/he can choose to begin to serve the new-map folks, treat them as constituents and thereby woo their votes for the upcoming Nov. election when the new maps really DO take effect.  They did this to try to aid in forcing the recalls into the new GOP-favorable districts instead of the old boundaries, a ploy that would be laughable except for the confusion it created.

        So, your old-map legislator is the official go-to person, but you now have a "bonus" legislator should you wish to take advantage of that.  Personally, I'd contact them both -- it's not like the Republican can complain since it was the GOP that wants to assign you over there, right?  (And in fact, I've tried it.  Only, in Madison, it's all Democrats and they've all agreed to honor the old maps and refer any confused constituents back to their old-map legislator.)

        As far as this particular issue goes, one option is to just use the WEAC link in the diary and let the algorithm send the letter where they think best!  :-)

        If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality. - Bishop Desmond Tutu

        by AnnieJo on Thu Feb 23, 2012 at 08:32:04 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Unless you saw a different link, (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          the link I clicked on just went to the page listing both legislators.  It didn't pick one.

          •  Two different links: (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            3goldens, JVolvo

            Who Are My Legislators? gives you the two sets of answers.  Once you put in your address, old-maps are on the left in the response-field, new-maps are on the right.

            The "Take five minutes and send a message now" link from WEAC is specific to AB110/SB486, and will only send to one set of legislators.

            Didn't mean to confuse things further!

            If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality. - Bishop Desmond Tutu

            by AnnieJo on Thu Feb 23, 2012 at 03:40:53 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  Thank you for clarifying. (3+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              AnnieJo, JVolvo, 3goldens

              I followed the link and sent my letter.
              Under the premise that I think a different personalized message is more likely to have an impact than cutting and pasting standard text that legislators learn to ignore as "oh, it's just some organization spamming us with the same thing over and over", I wrote my own response (although I did use the same opening paragraph to get the name of the bill in there).

              My letter was thus:

              Please oppose AB 110 and SB 486 creating a new voucher program that de-funds public schools and offers empty promises to children and their families.

              The reason for choosing to apply this voucher program to special needs students is purely to have a larger amount of money pulled per child.  When estimating how much money a student costs, to decide how much money to pull out of a public school and assign to a voucher instead, a higher figure can be quoted for a special needs child than for other children.  I am firmly convinced that this is the only reason this program goes after special students.  It has nothing whatsoever to do with actually caring about the needs of those children.

              •  Excellent -- thanks so much! (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:

                I agree that personalized is a big step above cut-and-paste -- but cut-and-paste is a fine way to get the contact-counts up when the time is short.  Thank you so much for going that extra step!!

                If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality. - Bishop Desmond Tutu

                by AnnieJo on Fri Feb 24, 2012 at 05:35:35 AM PST

                [ Parent ]

      •  When you plug in your address the letter-generator (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        AnnieJo, 3goldens

        plugs in your Assembly Rep and State Senator.  Easy Peasy!

        To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public. - Theodore Roosevelt 1918

        by JVolvo on Fri Feb 24, 2012 at 07:07:29 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  AnnieJo, whether this bill passes or not, someone (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    AnnieJo, koosah, maybeeso in michigan

    needs to make sure that the parents of kids with special needs are educated & fully aware that they lose federal protections when their child leaves the public school system.

    As in all states, I know that in my state, there were & are parents unhappy with aspects of their child's public school experience.  

    Many jumped at the op to use vouchers without fully realizing or understanding the difference between public & private.  Some applied for vouchers before finding out if the private entity would take their child-never realizing that could be a reality.  

    Many of the "voucher" schools seemed to appear overnight & appeared to cherry pick students...that were just a "little bit handicapped"...

    Fortunately, those that left with vouchers could return to public school system (at least in my county).  Staying, leaving or returning was always a choice-albeit one given without enough info to the parents, methinks.

    Being an advocate as well as the parent of a kiddo with special needs, I am all for choice that benefits the special needs population.

    That being said, I am totally against ANY whittling away of long fought for & necessary federal mandates that protects & empowers individuals of all ages who happen to have handicapping conditions. No matter who does the whittling.

     Sadly, much is still being fought for-something many without disability do not always understand or consider- beit in the schools, community, employment/workplace, political, supportive, housing or medical arenas.  

    Best of wishes that saner hearts & minds prevail in your state (and all states..)

    •  Yes. Families aren't going to understand, even (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      though one of the tweaks to the bill was that they have to be informed about what happens to their rights.  Which means, I'm guessing, that someone slips them a piece of paper somewhere along the line, which won't mean anything to them until the problems begin.

      It's true that kids can always return to the public schools -- the public schools are REQUIRED to take them in, there's that bit about federal rights!  However, the funding mechanism in the bill is such that it looks like the money wouldn't follow them back right away.  So the public school gets the double-whammy -- on the hook for the responsibilities, while the funding (perhaps for the entire year) has gone into a private school pocket.  This is happening in Milwaukee with the income-based vouchers that exist there, in a big way.

      And yes, cherry-picking is a big part of how the story will work.  That too is part of the Milwaukee voucher story, only right now the income-based voucher schools just aren't taking kids with special needs, such that they wind up extra-concentrated in the already-struggling public schools.

      Thank you for the good wishes.

      If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality. - Bishop Desmond Tutu

      by AnnieJo on Thu Feb 23, 2012 at 03:05:24 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Thanks for keeping track of this AnnieJo (8+ / 0-)

    Having relatives providing special ed services in schools and there are several concerns.  

    1) Losing institutional knowledge if public schools have to fire more special ed staff.  Not sure if it will surprise folks if older staff disappear, leaving behind least experienced.

    2) Those who remain will face larger case loads.

    3) Up until last year, when Republicans 'saved' our schools, families moved to Wisconsin school districts because of the quality, and sometimes to specific districts which may have had more effective programming than others. Special education here is far better than states farther South, so some families took transfers here in order to ensure better care for their special ed kids.  Care provided by our districts as part of Special Education was left up to parents to engage private pay services in Southern states. So changes here may set reverse the trend, where families decide to transfer elsewhere to find better care than can be found in declining Wisconsin.

    4) Funding for Special Education...this isn't easy to quantify and I don't know how this could reasonably be done in a fair manner.  Some kids may be getting over $20,000 worth of Special Ed care.  Others less than 1/3rd of that.  I dpn't think ALEC has a sane way to address this wide variance via a voucher plan.  IDEA basically mandates that students be able to get the services they need, via the school system, in order to succeed educationally as much as possible, with measurable goals and individualized plans.  IDEA hadn't contemplated a sizeable movement of students out of public schools.

    5) Established schools with ADA compliant ramps, bathrooms, resources, programming, facilities and experienced staff, will be hard and expensive for private or charter schools to replicate.  Expect them to come back to legislature begging for special treatment, allowances for start-up costs and recruiting costs, when parents demand better quality programming and care than they can profitably provide.

    6) Existing public school special ed staff, the ones already stretched thin from last year's cuts, are already having to service kids in charter and parochial schools, since the kids technically still 'belong in the district service area'.  Look for private and charter schools to press for more of this rather than having to gear up to provide services which may vary in need from semester to semester, year to year.

    7) It is possible families of special education students will elect to remain within public schools, and with the exodus of 'regular ed' kids, this concentrates the pupils needing more costly services within the public school district schools.  With districts faced with having to close school buildings as census changes, there will be pressures to cut costs within Special Education as well, and office staff and treatment areas will disappear.  This could affect district average test scores, per pupil costs, and make meeting NCLB requirements more challenging.

    When life gives you wingnuts, make wingnut butter!

    by antirove on Wed Feb 22, 2012 at 08:50:36 PM PST

    •  You said a mouthful -- that's a diary in (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      koosah, peptabysmal, antirove

      and of itself, right there, and a good one too!

      The funding thing -- that is surely a sticky wicket.  The original bill tried to put DPI on the hook for calculating how much money would go with the voucher student, based on how much it would cost to fulfill the IEP.  DPI said that's not how things work, you'd have to give DPI a bunch of new staffing to be able to come up with those calculations!  The new bill takes the approach of sending along the average per-special-needs kid amount, or less if the student has fewer needs.

      The original bill would have funnelled out more money.  The new bill puts the vouchers out of reach for anyone whose child has more significant needs and/or can't make up the difference in the full private-school tuition (private schools wouldn't have to educate the child for the voucher amount, and the family pays the difference).

      Disability Rights Wisconsin and other groups are making an equity-based argument that says this bill is therefore unfair to students with higher needs and lower incomes.  I see the argument but I'm not making it myself because it feels to me that the big picture is almost worse if more money flows!!

      Wingnut butter.  Mmm....

      If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality. - Bishop Desmond Tutu

      by AnnieJo on Thu Feb 23, 2012 at 03:20:03 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Given that the goal is to funnel public (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      peptabysmal, antirove, AnnieJo

      school money into private schools, to make public schools worse, I fully expect the estimate of the cost of educating a special needs child to be as highball of an estimate as possible.

      That's also why they targeted special needs kids.  It's not "their parents are more tempted to try".  It's not "They need special services more".  It's simply "this lets us quote a higher number per student for the amount of money to plunder out of public schools."

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