October 24, 2014

Revisiting special needs scholarships

Legislative committee discusses a Special Needs Scholarship Program for disabled students.

The bill (SB 525) would provide a choice in education for parents of special needs students, if certain conditions are met. The bill’s sponsor Senator Leah Vukmir (R-Wauwatosa) says while the open enrollment program is “wildly successful,” some students are stuck in a public school that is not serving their needs.

“Unlike the general student population, a special needs student can be denied open enrollment due to costs and as well as space concerns. What this has led to is over 42 percent of applications being denied.”

Under the measure, families must be denied an open enrollment request to transfer their student to another public school district before qualifying for a special needs voucher. Dani Rossa is the mother of two girls with autism.

“All children learn differently and have unique challenges. To make the generalization that a specific place will work for all special needs children is misguided.”

This bill would extend taxpayer subsidies to help special needs students who have had no success within the current system.

Opponents prefer to improve open enrollment and restore special education funding for public schools. The group ‘Stop Special Needs Vouchers Wisconsin’ worries rights and protections through Individuals with Disabilities Education Act would be lost.

The Senate Committee on Education heard testimony on Thursday.