Photo by David Mark.
Starting in the 2016-17 school year, in Wisconsin, parents of children with special needs will be able to use taxpayer money to cover tuition at private school—despite the fact that every established disability advocacy organization opposes the idea.
Taxpayer dollars can now be sent to uncertified private schools that claim they can serve some (but not all) children with disabilities, while stripping parents and their children who take these vouchers of all their legal rights.
On June 28, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction revealed the list of twenty-eight private schools that have agreed to take special needs vouchers in the 2016-17 school year.
A thorough review of the descriptions of these schools reveals that this program is a genuine scam, siphoning taxpayer dollars while promising little to children with disabilities.
Among the most troubling aspects revealed by this list include:
- 25 of 28 are private religious schools, all of which teach Christian doctrine;
- 22 of 28 are in the Milwaukee Metropolitan area so most of the state will have no access to this program;
- Only 1 of 28 claims to be wheelchair accessible, while 8 others admit that they are not accessible in clear violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and the remaining 19 are silent on the issue, suggesting that they are not ADA accessible;
- The Bethel Evangelical Lutheran School concedes that: “Special Education Program limits include limited maximum hours/time designated to any one student (60- 90 minutes daily) as a result of multiple students needing services.” This school concedes that it has no staff with special education licensure.
- When identifying, “Methods of instruction that will be used by the school to provide special education and related services to SNSP (Special Needs Scholarship Program-the official name of the voucher program) students,” Concordia Lutheran School states that it,”exists for the purpose of “Bringing Christ and excellence in academics to our children for life and forever”. The aim of this ministry is to assist parents:
- In helping their children grow in the love and knowledge of Christ, their Savior;
- In giving their children a Christian education and training according to the Word of God, for daily living in service to God and their neighbor.”
- Similarly, “Immanuel Lutheran School exists to share the love of Christ.” It has no special education certified staff.
- Lutheran Special School & Education Services, “provides Christ centered programs and services.” The school concedes that it, “does not provide speech and language therapy, occupational therapy or physical therapy.” The Divine Redeemer Lutheran School identifies no special education services that it will provide. Instead it explains: 1) Speech and language services are provided on campus through the local public school district; 2) A variety of math classes are offered in the middle school to match students with their skill level; and 3) the Accelerated Reader program is in wide use in our school.
- The Granville, Pilgrim, Renaissance, Saint Martini, Sherman Park and the Northwest Lutheran Schools (all part of LUMIN schools) only identify that they will help children with Specific Learning Disabilities and speech and language issues and concede that they are not wheelchair accessible.
- Heritage Christian Schools states that it will serve students with “mild learning disabilities or needs” even though students with “mild” needs do not generally qualify for special education.
- Pius XI Catholic High School provides a college prep program only for students with Specific Learning Disabilities or “similar educational disabilities.”
- The St. Coletta Day School, “is best suited for students who are . . . capable of academic achievement and possess sufficient self-care skills to be independent.”
- St. Paul Lutheran School does NOT offer, ‘handicap accessible rooms/building or full-time one-to-one instructors or educational aides.’
- Only 1 school (Saint Marcus Lutheran) states that it serves children with autism, cognitive disabilities, emotional behavior disabilities and other severe disabilities.
Since the program does not start providing education to children until the coming school year, it is too soon to tell how the students with disabilities whose parents obtain taxpayer funded vouchers for them to attend will fare. Of course, everyone hopes that they do well, but based on the description of their programs, most of these so-called special needs voucher schools are clearly ill-equipped to provide an appropriate education to the vast majority of Wisconsin students with disabilities, revealing that this program is simply a bad idea.
Jeff Spitzer-Resnick is a civil rights attorney with extensive experience in special education advocacy, based in Madison, Wisconsin. He blogs at: https://systemschangeconsulting.wordpress.com