Wisconsin children with special needs may be able to use scholarships to attend the public or private school of their parents choice.
Wisconsin children with special needs may soon have the opportunity to use scholarships to attend the public or private school of their parents' choice. This week, a bipartisan team of legislators introduced Assembly Bill 110, legislation that would create a high-quality, accountable special needs program in Wisconsin.
The American Federation for Children applauded Representatives Michelle Litjens, R-Vinland; Jason Fields, D-Milwaukee; and Evan Wynn, R-Whitewater, as well as Senators Leah Vukmir, R-Wauwatosa, and Terry Moulton, R-Chippewa Falls, for introducing the Wisconsin Special Needs Scholarship Act.
The proposed legislation would create a special needs scholarship program allowing children who have attended a Wisconsin public school or are starting school in the state for the first time with an Individualized Education Program (IEP) to use a scholarship to attend the public or private school of their choice.
Scholarship amounts would be established by the Department of Public Instruction and be based on the cost of the education program provided at the resident public school or the cost to the eligible school, whichever is less.
The program includes strong academic accountability measures by requiring all participating schools to provide regular reports to parents on student progress. Participating schools would be required to comply with all health and safety codes and laws, comply with federal nondiscrimination requirements, adhere to financial accountability standards, and conduct criminal background checks on all employees. The bill also requires a study of the program by January 2015.
"Wisconsin is taking great strides in giving families with special needs students more educational options," said Betsy DeVos, chairman of the American Federation for Children. "In states with these valuable programs, we consistently see high parental satisfaction, increased achievement, and improvements in public schools. These programs provide parents with more choices so they can find the very best schools for their children."
More than one-third of the Wisconsin Assembly has cosponsored the legislation, which is based on the highly successful John M. McKay Scholarship for Students with Disabilities Program in Florida.
If signed into law, Wisconsin would join seven states Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Utah with special needs scholarship programs that serve more than 26,000 children nationwide.
In addition to the proposed Special Needs Scholarship Program, Wisconsin offers the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, the oldest voucher program in the country, which helps more than 20,000 students in Milwaukee attend private schools every year.
Assembly Bill 110 has been referred for consideration to the Assembly Committee on Education.