WPRI Surveys Private Schools, Concludes “Wisconsin is Failing to Help Students with Disabilities”

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.

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 stunning whopper:

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 YOU, THE READER, 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!  (It’ll open in a new window, so you can send  your message and come right back.)

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!


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/Vouchers2013

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!

 Cross-posted from Daily Kos.

Wisconsin School Choice Week — The Proclamation That Wasn’t (Updated)

[See updates throughout.]

From Webster’s Collegiate (10th ed):

proclaim (L proclamare, pro– before + clamare to cry out):
1a: to declare publicly, typically insistently, proudly, or defiantly and in either speech or writing
2: to declare or declare to be solemnly, officially, or formally

On Saturday January 19, At some point in January 2013, Governor Scott Walker signed a proclamation declaring Wisconsin School Choice Week.  This seems to have been intended as part of the third annual National School Choice Week, which runs from Jan. 27 to Feb. 3.  You can see the proclamation here as a PDF — though it’s difficult to read, displaying at a rotation one turn too far to the right (yes, really!) [UPDATE: The proclamation linked in the previous sentence turns out to have been the 2012 version.  The 2013 version doesn’t appear to be online.]

It looks pretty solemn, official and formal.  But what about the publicly, insistently, proudly part?

Something strange is going on with this Wisconsin School Choice Week proclamation.  Public, proud proclamations from the Governor’s office in Wisconsin don’t get secretly signed on Saturdays, particularly when they highlight priority points in the gubernatorial agenda.  You’d expect them to be released for maximum news cycle timing, from the Wheeler Report to all the major news outlets statewide.

However, the Wisconsin School Choice week proclamation did not appear on the Wheeler Report, nor in any print news outlet as far as I’m aware.  As far as online news outlets go, there was an unnoticed blurb on WKOW on January 23, [UPDATE: 2012. Oops.] and then just yesterday a blogpost at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, which in turn triggered a couple of subsequent posts in the progressive blogosphere.

Strangely enough, the proclamation didn’t seem to hit the conservative blogs before yesterday either, with only a few mentions after the Journal Sentinel posts.  There’s a piece up on MacIver today about National School Choice Week, and an associated whistle-stop breakfast event in Milwaukee on Wednesday, but the Wisconsin proclamation didn’t rate so much as a mention.

So what’s up?

I don’t suppose it could be embarrassment about the content of the Whereas-es within the proclamation. [UPDATE: Since this year’s version doesn’t seem to be publicly posted, I’ll leave last year’s up here, embarrassment notwithstanding.]  For example, the one that says:

WHEREAS, the cause of education reform should transcend ideology and political party affiliation

With not one, not two, but THREE former GOP speakers of the Assembly pulling in the big bucks as lobbyists for school privatization: Scott Jensen, John Gard, and now Jeff Fitzgerald?   How can that one be WHEREAS-ed with a straight face?

Then there’s this one:

WHEREAS, research in Wisconsin and across the nation demonstrates the many positive benefits of educational options.

In Wisconsin, that’s not what the test scores in Milwaukee say.

And for a nice “across the nation” summary of voucher schools failing to live up to the hype, there’s a January 2013 report from Raise Your Hand Texas that contains tidbits like this one re the New Orleans “Student Scholarship for Educational Excellence:”

An analysis of state test results by the Cowen Institute of Tulane University shows that in most grades and subjects voucher recipients in New Orleans were outperformed by students at failing public schools.

On the other hand, barely-whispering the Wisconsin proclamation may have more to do with the anti-voucher pushback that’s been coming from GOP leadership in the state senate this month.  On January 17, Senate President Mike Ellis and Senate Education Committee Chair Luther Olsen both went on record in opposition to expansion of school vouchers in Wisconsin, unless each community holds a referendum.  They proposed that the bar for such a referendum be set recall-high:

To put a voucher expansion on the ballot should require the same number of signatures as is needed in a recall, Ellis said, or 25 percent of the total votes cast in the most recent gubernatorial election.

That sounds fair to me.  In fact, I think the bar ought to be equally as high for a statewide referendum on special needs vouchers, another part of the voucher expansion supported by not a single statewide disability organization, yet being prioritized behind closed doors at the Capitol (though the administration and the privatization lobbyists are keeping remarkably quiet about it when it comes to public acknowledgement of their efforts).  Let’s require the collection of  ca. 750,000 verifiable petition signatures and then a successful referendum election to inflict these “special needs scholarships” on Wisconsin public schools and our students with disabilities!  That would be a whole lot better than one rumored alternative: that special needs vouchers will be another dropped bomb, appearing in the 2013/2015 budget where such a major controversial policy change absolutely does NOT belong.

[UPDATE: Given the confusion around the 2012 Wisconsin School Choice Week proclamation, the original conclusion to this post no longer applies.  But here’s a new one:

Was the Wisconsin School Choice Week proclamation signed on the same day (January 7) as the proclamation declaring the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade to be “Protect Life Day,” as so ably documented by Rebecca Kemble and Heather DuBois Bourenane?

In my unsuccessful search for the Wisconsin School Choice Week proclamation, I also discovered that Jan. 27-Feb. 2, 2013, had been declared Catholic Schools Week, also signed on January 7.

The standard boilerplate on these proclamations appears to be: “do proclaim DATE as DAY-OR-WEEK NAME throughout the State of Wisconsin and I commend this observance to all of our citizens.”

Wouldn’t such proclamations be more… well, proclamation-ish… if our citizens actually knew about them?]

One last thing to point out about the proclamation.

Visit the proclamation PDF again, tilt your head to the right, and take a close look at the dates…

January 22-28.

Wisconsin School Choice Week is already over.

An idea whose time has passed, without anyone even noticing.

Proclaim it!

Scott Walker’s Soup Lines

The only good result of enduring many, expensive commercials – bought by the wealthy who don’t even live here – is that we know Walker has apparently had practice so that he can help serve our citizens soup on the poverty lines that have already begun for many in the state of Wisconsin. These soup lines are a result of Walker’s policies!

[Watch that commercial showing Walker serving the poor at a food pantry here.]

We know that almost 50% of us now live in poverty. The fact that we’ll have many more public employees in poverty, as districts use up their stimulus monies this year, adds to a shocking reality of the effects it will have on us all. Our state now leads the nation in having lost more jobs than any other state in the union. Walker and colleagues gave millions of our tax dollars away. Wisconsin was one of only two states that ended the previous year with a surplus! This is an outrageous and unnecessary outcome of Walker’s laws and policies!

When we should be doing everything we can to build up our public schools, we see huge amounts of our education dollars given to privatized schemes that don’t have to meet the high standards that we’ve been known for around the world.

This is the saddest of all the outcomes of Walker’s policies that we’ll see. Our most precious resource – our children – won’t have the means to succeed as their education and future is given away. Citizens must act quickly to get our government back.

Remove Walker now!

For more on the GOP’s plan to route public K-12 dollars to private schools:

March 1, 2012 Wisconsin Education Reform Only ALEC Could Love

Feb 27 2012 Wisconsin school aid up in the air under voucher program:
Parents in 37 school districts across Wisconsin could become eligible for a program that would let them use state aid to offset the tuition costs of private schools.

Children enrolled in Appleton, Freedom, Hortonville, Kimberly, Menasha and Neenah public schools could be eligible if the state expands the voucher program, according to a recent Wisconsin School Boards Legislative Update.

Jan 13 2012 Capitol Report: State superintendent Tony Evers calls on Assembly to ‘keep promise,’ close voucher loophole:

“The so-called loophole was inserted into the state budget at the final stage of approval in June by members of the budget-writing Joint Finance Committee. The last-minute language allowed voucher schools to expand from their sole location in Milwaukee to Racine.”

Featured image by Simon Rankin