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If there's one thing we've learned in Wisconsin since February 2011, and in Michigan just this month, it's that what gets passed in the statehouse after the election can be devastatingly different than what was promised or campaigned upon or even hinted at before.  We've also been hit with the following corollary: these things can happen with blinding speed.

Since the Nov. 6 election, the Walker administration has made no secret of their priority-plans to expand school vouchers in Wisconsin beyond the current voucher-cities of Milwaukee and Racine, but so far there hasn't been a peep about a certain piece of voucher legislation that deservedly failed during the last legislative session: the ALEC-sourced "Special Needs Scholarship Program Act," AB110/SB486.

But just because they haven't said anything, doesn't mean it's not coming.  There's a consistent expectation among those "in the know" at the Capitol: the special needs vouchers are an unspoken priority for the Walker administration, and the voucher legislation will be back before we know it.  The only questions are when and how.  Separate legislation?  Rolled into an omnibus voucher expansion bill?  Buried in the state budget?  Inserted into the state budget later in the middle of the night (as happened with voucher expansion language in 2011)?

I started writing about special needs vouchers in Wisconsin all the way back in May 2011 (Piratizing Special Education in Wisconsin: AB110)

The statewide special education vouchers, as proposed last session, would allow families of students with disabilities to take tax-dollars used to educate their child in public school, and spend them to send their child to private school instead.  Any child with an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) at a public school would be eligible, regardless of income.

The proponents of these "scholarships" make it sound so good -- but the promises are terribly hollow and the damage would be extensive, both for potential voucher students and for their classmates remaining in public schools.

More below the cheddar swirl...

First thing most parents don't know about these vouchers:
Anyone who takes a special needs voucher would forfeit all their rights and protections under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.  
This includes things like the right to an enforceable IEP; the right to have access to qualified staff; the right to not be expelled for behavior related to the disability; the right to have a transition plan from school into adult life.  Private voucher schools would not be required to provide even a single special-education professional or therapist!

Second related thing that most parents don't know:  
If things go wrong at a voucher school, you have no right to stay if they want you to leave.  
The public school has to educate your student; the private school has no such obligation.  In fact, the private school could decide mid-year to send your student back to the public school... but keep the voucher money for the year.  It's a terrible double-whammy for the public schools, as they not only lose the resources with the voucher but then have to do their best for the student who returns without the money if the voucher school kicks him or her out.

In fact:
No voucher school is obligated to take your student in the first place.  
We've already seen this in the longstanding Milwaukee "Parental Choice" voucher program, where they're not-accepting students with disabilities in droves.  Under 2% of current voucher students in Milwaukee have disabilities, while the figure in the Milwaukee public schools is now approaching 20%!  A similar dynamic would surely happen with statewide special needs vouchers -- only those students with less-severe disabilities would be accepted, leaving the students with greater challenges to cope with a reduced pool of shared-resources back in their public school.

On top of all this:
The voucher schools would not have to accept your special needs voucher as full tuition.  
Private schools could charge more if they choose, leaving lower-income families struggling or unable to make up the difference.  So the vouchers would end up subsidizing wealthier families, including those who could easily afford private education on their own.

And finally, most parents have no idea:
There were NO disability-advocates at the table when this legislation was created.  
No people with disabilities themselves, no parents, no disability organizations, no special educators.  Nobody but corporate representatives dictating corporate profit-interests to state legislators -- because this legislation comes from the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), and that's how they operate.

Here is the original version of AB110, creating the Special Needs Scholarship Program.

And here, via The Heartland Institute, is the ALEC model legislation:
The Special Needs Scholarship Program Act

Fortunately, some parents of students with disabilities in Wisconsin (including myself) do know, and want as many others to understand what this legislation really means -- before it's sprung on us once more.  A new statewide grassroots group is underway, entirely parent-led: Stop Special Needs Vouchers.  The group is online on Facebook and with the Stop Special Needs Vouchers blog.  There's even an e-mail announcements list for breaking calls-to-action!  To join, just e-mail a request to (the admins request in turn that you include just a little information about yourself in the note -- e.g. "I'm a parent from Racine" or "I'm an educator from Marinette.")

We know that, in additional to the near-unanimous opposition from Democratic state legislators, there are also Republican legislators with serious doubts about special needs vouchers.  If we work together, we can stop this.  But the time to organize is NOW -- because if we wait until the legislation actually appears, it could indeed be too late.

Originally posted to AnnieJo on Sat Dec 22, 2012 at 04:01 AM PST.

Also republished by Badger State Progressive.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (12+ / 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 Sat Dec 22, 2012 at 04:01:04 AM PST

  •  How many GOP legislators (3+ / 0-)

    would you say have doubts? Can you name names?

    I dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night, alive as you and me.

    by plankbob on Sat Dec 22, 2012 at 04:30:48 AM PST

    •  As it was stopped in the Senate before, (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Deejay Lyn, A FIB in Cheddarland

      so is the best chance of stopping it there again.

      I believe Mike Ellis expressed publicly that he wouldn't vote for the bill as it was framed last time around.  Dale Schultz had doubts as well.  Luther Olsen wasn't entirely convinced -- and he's the chair of the ed. committee, and didn't let it come to a vote there, though it would have passed easily in committee.  

      On the Dem. side, the senator most inclined to break ranks and go the wrong way would be Lena Taylor, who has supported the current Milwaukee vouchers despite their record of averaging worse academically than MPS even with so many rules bent in their favor!

      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 Sat Dec 22, 2012 at 04:59:50 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Casting the net a little wider -- (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Deejay Lyn, A FIB in Cheddarland

        also worth talking to Terry Moulton and Sheila Harsdorf.

        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 Sat Dec 22, 2012 at 05:04:30 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  Lena Taylor? (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        A FIB in Cheddarland

        WTF ? I thought she knew better. Disappointing.

        Good job, appreciate your info on this crap. Hope you and yours have a nice holiday, even though snot and co still are in office.

        •  On the plus side, Milwaukee did upgrade (2+ / 0-)

          the Assembly Democrats!  The one Dem Assembly rep who'd co-sponsored AB110, Jason Fields, was roundly ousted by community-organizer Mandela Barnes, despite getting bucketloads of cash from the "school-choice" lobby.  Barnes has now been appointed to the Assembly Urban Education committee, where it's most likely that a special-needs voucher bill would go if it gets introduced somewhere other than the budget.

          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 Sat Dec 22, 2012 at 09:35:51 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

        •  She also voted for concealed carry, IIRC (0+ / 0-)

          Lena Taylor is actually a conservative Democrat who isn't all that far to the left of Tim Cullen.

          Elizabeth Warren on the Senate Banking Committee is a BFD!

          by DownstateDemocrat on Sun Dec 23, 2012 at 03:14:13 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  Annie, thank you for speaking out against this (3+ / 0-)

    I wouldn't be surprised if Wisconsin Republicans tried to sneak special needs vouchers, a venture capital fund, and every other legislative priority that the GOP doesn't want Wisconsinites to know about into the next biennial budget.

    Also, Scott Walker, who received a legislative award from the NRA a while back, wants to arm the very same teachers that he took collective bargaining rights away with. That tells you what him and his allies truly think of teachers.

    Elizabeth Warren on the Senate Banking Committee is a BFD!

    by DownstateDemocrat on Sat Dec 22, 2012 at 04:57:43 AM PST

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