A group of Republican state lawmakers are proposing legislation that would allow the parents of special needs students to receive tax-funded vouchers to send their children to private schools. A similar proposal was pulled out of last year’s state budget.
Sue Giaimo of Wauwatosa is a parent of a 14-year-old son with autism. She related her frustrations at a Capitol press conference on Tuesday, and said public education is “broken” when it comes to special needs students and their parents.
“It does not always respect their rights to an appropriate education,” Giamo said. “It does not allow parents to hold school districts accountable. And it denies parents the right to choose an educational placement to meet their parents needs.”
Giaimo said she and her husband made the decision to enroll their son in a private school, after failing to have their concerns addressed by school district and the state Department of Public Instruction.
Giaimo was on hand as Senator Leah Vukmir and Representatives John Jagler and Dean Knudson unveiled the bill, which would provide vouchers for special needs students who have been unable to get proper placements in public schools outside their districts, under the state’s open enrollment program.
“This bill is for those kids, for those parents who have tried to work through the system as it exists right now,” said Jagler (R-Watertown). “They’ve done everything they can. They go through the open enrollment situation and are denied.”
Critics say special needs students would have inadequate legal protections in private schools which don’t have to follow the same federal disability laws as public schools.
Representative Mandy Wright (D-Wausau) said she understands the frustration of parents, but she opposes the bill. “I would love to have a conversation with them,” Wright said. “I really do think that working through DPI, maybe there are options where we can choice into other schools. Maybe we can implement some real accountability measures, but I don’t see that here.”
“The prospect of trying to solve that for a few with a bill that has a potential of so much damage for so many, that’s something that we are not willing to contemplate,” said Joanne Juhnke with Stop Special Needs Vouchers.