They're trying to loot public education in Wisconsin.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.
And they're trying to take advantage of families like mine, with kids like my daughter, to do it.
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.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:
-- 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.
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.