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The conservative think-tank Wisconsin Public Research Institute (WPRI) has issued a report on the failings of education in Wisconsin, just days before Governor Walker is slated to release his 2013/2015 state budget proposal.

You might expect, given that the governor has been talking for months about using the budget to expand Milwaukee-like voucher programs into communities that don't want them, that WPRI's priority immediately before the budget release would involve casting aspersions on the public schools in those communities.

Instead, however, they did a survey of private schools in Wisconsin.  And the result of that survey is a report called "How Wisconsin is Failing to Help Students with Disabilities."

How fascinating to hear WPRI imply that private schools in Wisconsin are not meeting the needs of students with disabilities!

Equally fascinating is their argument, beyond the jump.

It may not be well known, but private schools actually do get some funding from the public school system to assist in educating students with disabilities.  The public schools have to share part of their federal special-education funding, proportional to what percentage of students with disabilities in the district are in the private schools.

WPRI would like private schools to have more of those tax dollars, either through identifying more children as having disabilities, or by bringing in more such kids with public funding attached.

And, when you ask private school administrators questions that lead in those directions, they agree:

Asked, “Are there children in your school who, in your estimation, would be considered disabled if they attended a public school but are not considered disabled at your school?” 40 percent of private school administrators said yes and another 25 percent said probably.

Asked, “Would your school accept more children with disabilities if you had more money or resources to educate them?” 51 percent responded yes and another 33 percent said probably.

Alas for the private schools of Wisconsin, and the failure to educate the students with disabilities therein.  If only they had more public funding!

It's interesting.  You might also hear the public schools of Wisconsin tell you that they could better educate students with disabilities if they only had more funding.  (They won't tell you that they'd accept more such children, because they're already required to educate all children in their district regardless of disability.)

Unfortunately, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) that requires public schools to provide a free appropriate education -- with all the rights and protections that entails -- to students with disabilities in their district, has been sadly underfunded at both the federal and state level since its inception, leaving the districts to pick up the balance.

IDEA also does not require the private schools to abide by the same requirements and protections as the private schools.

For example, while private schools are not supposed to write admissions policies that say "we do not take students with disabilities," they can keep out the higher-needs students via academic or behavior standards.  Sometimes private schools won't even take students with more significant disabilities when parents offer to pay the full cost of aides and therapists themselves, as related by Tari from Madison:

I met with one of the private schools, and I had given them, in advance, my son's preschool IEP. When they met with me, there were four or five people who immediately told me they would not be able to meet his needs. I offered that my husband and I would pay out of our pocket for a full time aide and that we would finance all of his needs for occupational therapy, speech/language, and all other needs. The private school said, "No thank you."
Public schools don't get to pick and choose like that.  When your tax dollars go to Wisconsin public schools, you know you're paying to educate everyone.

In fact, it's quite clear from the WPRI report what kind of students with disabilities the private schools would prefer to recruit:

...many respondents said they are best able to assist children with learning disabilities in areas such as speech or reading, dyslexia and some physical issues including hearing impairments.
So how does WPRI think that private schools could best get a better whack at the public money?  They don't recommend directly, but they do drop some broad hints -- right at the beginning of the report, in the "WPRI Notes," in fact.
A quiet little bill wound its way through the halls of the state Capitol last session and even garnered enough support to pass in the Assembly.  However, it did not pass in the Senate, and so it died.
That "quiet little bill" actually proposed a major statewide education policy change, in the form of a voucher program for students with disabilities, dubbed The Special Needs Scholarship Program Act, with an eerily similar text to an ALEC model bill of the same name.  I first wrote about it at Daily Kos in May 2011:  Piratizing Special Education in Wisconsin: AB110. Parents and educators pointed out loudly and clearly: special needs vouchers would be risky for the students who took them, because they came without the IDEA rights and protections. And they'd also be terrible news for the students with more challenging disabilities who remained in the public schools, losing shared resources as the public dollars flowed away into private coffers.

Ever since that special needs voucher bill failed to pass the state Senate, and even more since the Republicans regained the Senate majority in November 2012, we've been hearing rumbles that it was coming back as a priority in 2013.  Even while school-privatization lobbyist Scott Jensen played coy in a January interview, the writing was on the wall.  A group of concerned parents of children with disabilities began to organize into a statewide network called Stop Special Needs Vouchers, to prepare for the bill's potential re-introduction.

Or.... might the legislation possibly appear in the governor's budget, where it wouldn't even get a separate public hearing?

The latter suspicion became an immediate threat just a week ago, when the misleadingly-named deep-pocketed national school privatization lobby American Federation for Children began soliciting disability organizations in Wisconsin.  We want to help you, they said.  All you need to do is send a letter at this handy-dandy letter generator to Governor Walker, and tell him to put a special needs scholarship program into the budget!

Their letter included this stunningly deceptive statement:

Special needs scholarship programs in other states have proven to be very accountable, attracting parental satisfaction rates higher than 90 percent.
I'm sure the public schools will be delighted to hear that they don't need to do any of those pesky standardized tests anymore, and that parental satisfaction scores are the only measure that needs to be applied from now on!

Fortunately, Stop Special Needs Vouchers was ready and willing to spring into action.  First step, a letter generator with the opposite message: Governor Walker, these vouchers are harmful and no established disability organization in Wisconsin has asked for them.  Do NOT put them in the budget.

ACTION STEP FOR WISCONSIN READERS, RIGHT NOW:  Please take just a minute and send a message to Governor Walker and your state legislators, and tell them that special needs vouchers do NOT belong in the budget!

Next step, it's time to spread the message far and wide.  Mark your calendars for a press event at the Capitol in Madison this Monday!

PARENTS OF CHILDREN WITH DISABILITIES TRAVEL TO MADISON
TO TELL THE GOVERNOR:
SPECIAL NEEDS SCHOLARSHIPS ARE BAD NEWS FOR OUR KIDS!

When: February 18, 2:30 PM
Where: State Capitol, Room 330 SW; Madison, WI
Who: Parents of Children with Disabilities and Students from throughout Wisconsin (Other Quality Education Advocates are also welcome to attend.)

Parents and children with disabilities from across Wisconsin will gather in the Capitol on Monday, February 18 to tell Governor Scott Walker to keep special needs vouchers for students with disabilities OUT of his budget proposal.

The Governor will deliver his budget address on February 20.  Many believe he is being pressured by out-of-state lobbyists to include a special needs scholarship proposal, which could be harmful to students with disabilities and local school districts. Specifically, families are concerned that voucher funding mechanisms would harm their children in the public schools by draining monies from their local districts.  In addition, parents who use the vouchers would lose essential rights in private schools where basic safety protections are not in place and quality of education is not guaranteed.

At the family-organized February 18 Capitol event, parents from around Wisconsin will share their stories, introduce their children with disabilities and discuss their concerns about placing a special needs voucher proposal in the budget. Following the press event, parents and children with disabilities will deliver a message directly to the Governor’s office.

For more background on concerns about special needs vouchers in Wisconsin, see: http://tinyurl.com/...

The WPRI report, in both its contents and timing, makes the message even more urgent.  Stop Special Needs Vouchers is hoping for a big turnout on Monday.  If you're anywhere in the area, please come and swell the crowd!

Originally posted to AnnieJo on Sat Feb 16, 2013 at 05:37 PM PST.

Also republished by Badger State Progressive, American Legislative Transparency Project, and Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tips for our public schools (38+ / 0-)

    where our tax dollars go to educate everyone, disability or no!

    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 Feb 16, 2013 at 05:24:18 PM PST

  •  Government spending (11+ / 0-)

    Funny how the same people who decry government are perfectly fine with it as long as it winds up in their pockets.

    Let's take back Wisconsin!!!

    by A FIB in Cheddarland on Sat Feb 16, 2013 at 05:45:05 PM PST

  •  I hate to blame the parents BUT... (8+ / 0-)

    As a parent of a disabled child I know how this goes.   In the end, our oldest son who is disabled goes to a private, specialty school that is fully paid for by the state.

    Now, that situation is different because it's the only kind of student they handle, those with several mental and social issues and we got that through IEP.

    However, most private schools aren't setup for it, don't classify for it, etc.  Parents who send their children to those schools and have administrators who say "if they went to another school, they'd be considered disable" are part of the problem.

    They are putting their own children in a school to keep them from being labeled disabled OR they simply aren't addressing the problem OR they prefer to have their child go to a private school over a public school OR they perceive their public school as "bad" so they want a private education.

    What's missing in all of that is that they aren't fighting for a better public school option.   They, in the end, are the ones denying their children access to a full educational opportunity they deserve.

    I admit, I believe that there is an area for very specialty schools to exist that are more likely to be private.   I can't imagine our son going to a true "public" school, because he really needs to go to a school with a full mental health service, residential care and clinical services attached.  That's too difficult to ask of a regular public school.

    But most children who are traditionally disabled can function in a public school and receive good services IF they have parents who work on it through the help of an IEP and good staff.

    Parents who short circuit that by pulling kids tend to be the ones who throttle money out of the system and really help pull the plug on the development of their own kids.

    Gandhi's Seven Sins: Wealth without work; Pleasure without conscience; Knowledge without character; Commerce without morality; Science without humanity; Worship without sacrifice; Politics without principle

    by Chris Reeves on Sat Feb 16, 2013 at 06:22:07 PM PST

    •  "got that through the IEP" (7+ / 0-)

      is the key, isn't it?

      The privatizers are pitching that you shouldn't have to jump through the hoops to get served at that private school... when it's actually the hoops that are what set you up to get what your child needs.

      Our side has a tougher sell because it's potential harms and incremental destruction of our kids' public schools, versus parents who have dire stories about how their children are having a bad situation in the public schools right now, for whatever reason.

      Plus the privatizers have all the money in the world.  Stop Special Needs Vouchers has some good alliances... but has no money whatsoever.

      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 Feb 16, 2013 at 07:04:41 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  It's a scary thing (10+ / 0-)

    when you warn of something 2 years in advance and then see it come into fruition, isn't it?

    Thank you for the information and for staying on top of this issue.  

    Words can sometimes, in moments of grace, attain the quality of deeds. --Elie Wiesel

    by a gilas girl on Sat Feb 16, 2013 at 06:36:51 PM PST

  •  If I were a parent, I'd record the conversation (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Sark Svemes

    with the administration.  And even after the offer of paying for the aide and what not, if they still said no, they'd have a suit and I'd get the courts to order my kid to be educated there for free.

    "Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity." --M. L. King "You can't fix stupid" --Ron White -6.00, -5.18

    by zenbassoon on Sat Feb 16, 2013 at 06:52:56 PM PST

    •  but if it's a private school (4+ / 0-)

      and your child doesn't meet their "admissions criteria"... what's the basis for the suit?

      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 Feb 16, 2013 at 07:00:16 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  EDEA. Basically getting them to admit that they (0+ / 0-)

        aren't taking my kid because he's special needs.

        "Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity." --M. L. King "You can't fix stupid" --Ron White -6.00, -5.18

        by zenbassoon on Sat Feb 16, 2013 at 07:05:22 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  IANAL, but... (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          zenbassoon, Whatithink

          that sounds to me like that might be a pretty heavy lift.  Do you know of such cases that have been successful?

          That's also a lot to take on, on top of an already-brimful life of trying to meet the needs of a kiddo with significant disabilities.  And in this family's situation (I'm friends with the mom), the public school district is actually a pretty darn fine option.

          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 Sun Feb 17, 2013 at 03:19:52 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

        •  that would work (0+ / 0-)

          in a public school. Private schools are like restaurants -- free to serve or not serve as they see fit.

  •  Is Wisconsin headed for Third-World Education? (3+ / 0-)

    Gobdamnit, just when I think things have settled down a bit, and I can catch my breath as Wisconsin sinks into an asbyss to join Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, etc., another pack of "professional people who are concerned about education" comes out with rare and pure bullshit about school vouchers.

    I am amazed so many people who ought to know better have supported the voucherization of Wisconsin's education system. As students are removed from the public school system and placed in private schools, the public shool's services get cut or eliminated to meet shrinking budgetary constraints.

    As Governor Turdwaffle signs off on new cuts, watch for the elimination of humanities courses, extra-curricular activities (social clubs, sports, music, etc.), and Advanced Placement classes. We are headed for a school system where no Wisconsin high school graduate can be accepted by any real college or university. The diploma mill schools must all be giving each other high-fives.

  •  Quality Education Guarantteed? (0+ / 0-)

    Diary quotes

    In addition, parents who use the vouchers would lose essential rights in private schools where basic safety protections are not in place and quality of education is not guaranteed.
    Does Wisconsin guarantee a quality education in public schools?  If so what is this guarantee, and what is a parent's recourse if it is not provided?

    The most important way to protect the environment is not to have more than one child.

    by nextstep on Sun Feb 17, 2013 at 09:39:58 AM PST

    •  the technical language is (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      nextstep

      "free and appropriate public education" for students with disabilities.  This is federal language from the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and comes with a variety of rights and protections.

      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 Sun Feb 17, 2013 at 06:41:37 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  parents of students (0+ / 0-)

      with special needs have rights and safeguards in public schools that are not afforded to parents of gen ed students. Private schools are under no obligation to provide the same rights.

  •  Not a surprise (0+ / 0-)

    My Gramma lived in Sherman, TX.  That district had Edison schools come in and run some of their schools.  

    Edison Schools could only do well ifthey were in a school that had a lot of federal dollars coming in.  

    They would wind up leaving the district high and dry without completing the contract.  

    Apparently, even in poverty stricken areas, there wasn't enough federal money for them to be able to run a school and make a profit.  

    Huh.  Go figure.

    Streichholzschächtelchen

    by otto on Sun Feb 17, 2013 at 09:40:03 AM PST

  •  Sent the email! (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    plankbob, AnnieJo

    Too bad my rep is Walker's Evil Henchman Robin Vos (R-Crazy).  Keep us updated, Annie Jo.  As a retired teacher, I know all too well what is at stake for special needs children.

    Wisconsin: It's war, you know. We didn't start it, but we'll keep fighting in it until we win

    by isewquilts2 on Sun Feb 17, 2013 at 10:24:15 AM PST

  •  Process of testing (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Sark Svemes, AnnieJo

    I work for MPS and as part of my job I must evaluate,observe, gather data, and test students in the voucher schools who are suspected of having special needs.  MPS staff (social workers, psychologists, diagnostic teachers, and supervisors) all spend a great deal of time doing these evaluations.  The voucher schools don't have to spend a dime.  If the child is found to be eligible for special education, MPS must offer them a placement but most parents turn it down and prefer to keep their child at the voucher school which does not have to implement the IEP.  Very frustrating that the public does not know how much money and time MPS spends doing these evaluations.  I have seen many good voucher schools and some very bad ones.  It is interesting and I enjoy my job but is frustrating to know that all of our work in diagnosing the child is likely going to result in no accomodations or modifications if they stay in voucher school.  By the way, the Jorunal is reporting that Walker is proposing giving millions to these schools for disabled children.  Very dangerous-how many will enroll for a weeks to get the money and then return to MPS in October?  Let's work hard for Fallone.  Good luck to all.

  •  Really nice diary, AnnieJo. n/t (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    AnnieJo

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

    by plankbob on Sun Feb 17, 2013 at 01:43:49 PM PST

  •  What would you expect in... (0+ / 0-)

    Northern Texas?

    "Do you realize the responsibility I carry?
    I'm the only person standing between Richard Nixon and the White House."
    ~John F. Kennedy~

    -7.5,-5.8

    by Oldestsonofasailor on Sun Feb 17, 2013 at 01:58:06 PM PST

  •  there was a high profile case here in MN (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    AnnieJo

    a year or two ago in which a family with several children attending the prestigious DeLaSalle High School wanted their youngest, who was mentally disabled, to attend the school to - so he could be with his siblings.

    They turned them down cold, despite all their support for the school over the years. The minute they showed up with a kid that might not keep their college admission numbers up, they weren't interested.

    It bothers me that we have so many wealthy kids in this country going to school with kids who don't face challenges like this. It'll leave them less able to live in the real world if you ask me.

  •  So they want to cherrypick special needs children (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    badscience, AnnieJo

    to make a buck?

    It's hard to know how to express my disgust.

  •  Against Vouchers (0+ / 0-)

    I'm just against vouchers on principle. This is one of those ideas that was invented basically as an attack on the public school system, because our opponents don't want children exposed to ideas they don't like.

    If you have a bunch of money and you want to pay for a private school or just tutoring, then that's fine. But when the public schools are short of money we don't need this added drain on resources.

    Most of what I hear about reforming education just comes down to someone trying to carve off students from the public schools so that they can, in a word, indoctrinate students in some out-of-the-ordinary beliefs. Let them pay for the privilege.

  •  That's not a bug that's a feature (0+ / 0-)

    The GOP plan all along has been to establish two school systems, each funded by taxpayers. "Private" schools for the "regular sort of folks" all paid for by taxpayers w/o any accountability to taxpayers,

    and,

    the old "public" schools which are to be left behind to warehouse the undesireables ... hard to educate kids, English as a 2nd language kids, minoruty kids, poor kids.

    Segregation forever! Gov Wallace lives on.

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