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Special Needs Scholarship Legislation Passed by Wisconsin State Assembly

  • Published: 2012-03-16 (Revised/Updated 2012-09-20) : American Federation for Children.
  • Synopsis: Wisconsin State Assembly passed legislation that would create an expansive voucher program for children with special needs.
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Bipartisan plan, which would empower thousands of special needs students, now advances to Senate for consideration.

The Wisconsin State Assembly late last night passed legislation that would create an expansive voucher program for children with special needs, bringing the first statewide, publicly funded private school choice program to Wisconsin's special needs families.

The American Federation for Children - the nation's voice for school choice - praised the legislation, which passed with bipartisan support, and called on State Senators to follow the lead of their Assembly colleagues and pass Senate Bill 486, the companion legislation in the upper chamber.

AFC also commended Representatives Michelle Litjens , Jason Fields (D), and Evan Wynn , the three sponsors of the legislation who worked to make the program highly accountable for parents and participating schools. The Senate is expected to take up the measure in the coming weeks.

"This plan is about providing families who have children with special needs with educational choice, because they know their children better than anyone else," said Brian Pleva, a Government Affairs Associate for the American Federation for Children.

Assembly Bill 110, which passed by a vote of 55-39, would create a program allowing students with disabilities to receive scholarships of up to $13,500 to attend the school of their parents' choice.

Last month, the Senate Committee on Education held a public hearing where more than 30 parents and children testified in support of the bill. Organizations from across the state, including School Choice Wisconsin, Hispanics for School Choice, and Democrats for Education Reform have also expressed their support for the legislation.

If enacted, the plan would be the latest in a surge of school choice programs tailored for students with special needs. There are currently 10 publicly funded private school choice programs for children with special needs in eight states - Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Utah. Special needs school choice programs serve nearly 30,000 students this school year.

Wisconsin is also home to the nation's longest running private school choice program - the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program - and a recently enacted program in Racine. A recent study showed that Milwaukee voucher students boast improved reading scores and are more likely to graduate from high school than their public school counterparts.

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