Special needs voucher program costs taxpayers $5.6 million, reduces aid to public schools, report says

The Wisconsin program that allows children with special needs to attend private schools at taxpayer expense cost the state $5.6 million in “scholarships” in its first two years, and diverted $4.1 million in needed state aid away from 25 local public school districts, according to a new audit from the Legislative Audit Bureau. Milwaukee Public Schools alone lost more than $2.6 million in state aid because of the program.

In addition, an analysis of the report by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel says the report “confirmed what many critics had feared: that it would serve primarily children already in private schools and leave children with the greatest needs to the public schools.”

The report points out that:

  • Only about one-fourth of the 306 students who participated at some point during these two school years had attended a public school in the school year before participating, and most of the remaining students had attended private schools.
  • Approximately three-fourths of participating students lived in the boundaries of Milwaukee Public Schools.
  • In the 2017-18 school year, participating students attended 26 participating private schools and were from 25 resident school districts.
  • The number of participating private schools increased from 24 in the 2016-17 school year to 26 in the 2017-18 school year.
  • In the 2018-19 school year, 84 private schools intend to participate.

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Special needs vouchers cost Wisconsin public schools $5.6 million in first two years

A Wisconsin program that allows special needs students to attend private schools on taxpayer-funded vouchers cost local public schools almost $5.6 million in state funding over the last two years, including hundreds of districts where no residents participated in the program, according to a new state audit and related documents.

Read the entire audit report:

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Rep. Pocan calls private school voucher system a ‘wasteful, failing experiment’

In a column in the Progressive Magazine, U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wisconsin) thoughtfully and thoroughly lays out the case against the careless and costly expansion of private school vouchers in Wisconsin.

“Having served fourteen years in the Wisconsin state legislature before coming to Congress, I had a front-row seat to witness the growth of the nation’s first and largest taxpayer-funded voucher experiment. Our state was an unfortunate leader in the current march toward corporations and wealthy individuals privatizing our public education system,” he writes.

“Wisconsin now has more than 32,000 students statewide enrolled in its voucher plan, even though approximately three-quarters of the new students receiving that public money were already attending private schools. Now they are just doing so on the taxpayers’ dime. States across the country are draining funds from public schools that educate the vast majority of our children and diverting it to a few students in private schools.

“And while state governments are spending millions of taxpayer dollars on these schools, there is virtually no proof that voucher programs are effectively educating our kids. These schools have far less accountability and lower standards than public schools.”

After further discussing voucher school failures and lack of standards and accountability, Pocan concludes:

“It is unconscionable for taxpayers to continue funding two duplicative education systems, particularly when the one can cherry-pick students and ignore educational standards and dodge showing proof they are working.

“We need to have the federal Department of Education clarify the necessary steps to ensure proper oversight of this program, which appears to be a wasteful, failing experiment. After all, this should be about quality education for our kids.”

Read the entire column at Progressive.com:

The Privatization of Public Education is Failing Our Kids | The Progressive

H aving served fourteen years in the Wisconsin state legislature before coming to Congress, I had a front-row seat to witness the growth of the nation’s first and largest taxpayer-funded voucher experiment. Our state was an unfortunate leader in the current march toward corporations and wealthy individuals privatizing our public education system.

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Teachers will remain vigilant to expose vouchers that fail special needs children

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

January 4, 2015
Contact: Christina Brey, 608.298.2519, @christinajbrey

 

Teachers will remain vigilant to expose vouchers that fail special needs children

Door still open for U.S. Justice Department to investigate future claims that private voucher schools discriminate against students with disabilities

The door is open for the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate future claims that private voucher schools discriminate against students with disabilities, after the department closed a four-year investigation into claims of voucher wrongdoings. Parents, educators and disability rights groups will remain vigilant in reporting situations in which voucher schools are not adequately serving special needs children, and aggrieved families can pursue individual action.

The following statement can be attributed to Betsy Kippers, a teacher and president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council.

“As educators, we are deeply concerned about the inadequate services afforded to special needs students in the voucher program. These private schools are funded by taxpayers but pick and choose the students they want to educate. Public schools provide opportunity for every child. We will be vigilant in demanding voucher accountability, as Wisconsin prepares to funnel millions more tax dollars to private schools through the misguided special needs voucher program next school year.”

Facts about tax-funded voucher schools and special needs services:

  • Voucher schools don’t follow the same rules as public schools for special needs students.
  • Voucher schools aren’t required to employ special education teachers.
  • Voucher schools don’t have to report the number of children they enroll with disabilities.

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Families promise to keep speaking out against special needs vouchers

In the wake of recent headlines that “promise” the return of the failed special needs vouchers proposals in Wisconsin, families of students with special needs have some promises of their own.

Republican State Rep. John Jagler of Watertown said this week a bill to create a voucher program to help students with special needs attend private school in Wisconsin will pass “one way or another.” Jagler introduced a bill last year that failed to pass.

In response to Jagler’s latest comments, the organization Stop Special Needs Vouchers issued a news release vowing to continue the fight against special needs vouchers.

“I can promise you this: families like mine are still just as opposed to these voucher schemes as we were eight months ago,” says Terri Hart-Ellis of Whitefish Bay, mom to 11-year-old Addie who has Rubinstein-Taybi syndrome. “Last winter we brought over a thousand signatures and stories from across Wisconsin to the legislature, pointing out how special needs vouchers would weaken our neighborhood schools and how voucher students lose their special education rights. Our families have spoken out time and again against these harmful proposals, and it’s time for the legislature to listen!”

Kelli Simpkins of Madison, whose 13-year-old son Mickey has epilepsy, promises to continue raising her voice as well. “We should be talking about strengthening special education funding in the public schools, and the proposals that are already on the table to make open enrollment more equitable by eliminating ‘undue financial burden’ denials for students with disabilities. Why in the world are we still re-hashing voucher proposals that would let fly-by-night schools set up in Wisconsin to take advantage of our children?”

The organization went on to state:

“The families of Stop Special Needs Vouchers are determined to continue to let our legislators and our communities know: special needs vouchers would be a dangerous experiment with our most vulnerable students. Every special needs voucher proposal, every time, has been wrong for our students and wrong for Wisconsin.”

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

For more information on Stop Special Needs Vouchers, a parent-led statewide grassroots group, see:

Facebook page — .facebook.com/StopSpecialNeedsVouchers
Web site — stopspecialneedsvouchers.org.