Press Release: Governor's Proposed Education Budget Raises Concerns
BPDD Concerned about How Students with Disabilities will Be Affected
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Feb. 18, 2013
Contact: Beth Swedeen, Executive Director, (608) 266-1166, firstname.lastname@example.org
Madison, WI – Governor Scott Walker’s announcement Sunday outlining his overall education budget proposal for Wisconsin students in the next biennium includes some potential positive impacts for students with disabilities. However, the three major requests the Wisconsin Board for People with Developmental Disabilities (BPDD) outlined in its biennial budget platform were not included, according to BPDD Executive Director Beth Swedeen.
“BPDD, along with the Survival Coalition and other major statewide disability groups, had requested a significant increase in both categorical aids providing overall special education services to Wisconsin’s nearly 120,000 students with disabilities, as well as an increase in the ‘high cost’ fund for students whose needs cost $30,000 or more per year,” said Swedeen.
“Those requests do not appear to be part of the Governor’s proposal, although his addition of an overall increase of just over 1% statewide is positive for all students, including those with disabilities.”
Swedeen said BPDD also is in agreement with other disability groups in the state that have had significant concerns about special needs vouchers, which many statewide disability groups and families had specifically asked to be left out of the Governor’s budget.
Swedeen said Gov. Walker’s inclusion in his budget proposal of nearly $21 million to fund special needs vouchers is problematic, given the overall lack of additional funding for all students with disabilities. Advocates have raised concerns that vouchers will drain public funding from already-struggling small local school districts, while stripping families of federal rights guaranteed in public schools through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
“After a 20-year erosion of state investment in special education funding (from 44% to 26% of local costs) and an overall reduction in state funding during the last biennium, focusing on vouchers for a relatively small number of students with disabilities is not the most effective or equitable way of improving outcomes for students with disabilities statewide,” said Swedeen.
Almost 14%, or nearly 120,000, Wisconsin students receive special education services. In Milwaukee Public Schools, nearly 20% of students are identified as having a disability. Only a small fraction of the state’s students with disabilities would be able to use a voucher. Swedeen stated that in other states, students with the most significant disabilities are rarely able to be served in private schools that accept vouchers.
“Disability advocates looked at this year’s state budget surplus as the perfect opportunity to invest in K-12 education, including special education, to ensure that students with disabilities and all students are college and workforce ready,” said Swedeen. “Students with disabilities perform at less than half the rate of their peers on standardized math and reading tests. Restoring funding and targeting supports for all students with disabilities through increased categorical aids could be a huge step in reducing achievement gaps and more effectively preparing students with disabilities for the adult demands of college and the workforce.”
While full details were not available, the Governor’s initial education budget proposal information does not mention investments in special education categorical aids or the state’s high cost special education fund to address these concerns.
BPDD supports the following Governor’s initiatives that could improve outcomes for students with disabilities:
• An increase of about 1% in general school equalization aids plus other school performance and grant funding that would equate to a total K-12 increase of $276 million over the biennium.
• A focus on rewarding performance, including schools that invest specifically in improving the achievement of our most vulnerable students, which could include those with disabilities.
• Investments in data systems to more accurately track student performance and identify student learning needs earlier.
• Investments in a WISELearn Portal to help teachers share materials and best practices in educating students with disabilities as well as help non-traditional learners access content in a variety of ways.
• Investments in the Read to Lead Screener to help measure literacy skills (and provide reading help for students) in preschool and up to first grade.
• Investments in Academic Career Plans to ensure students with disabilities have access to career planning to increase their chances of being college and career ready.
BPDD and other disability organizations statewide look forward to working with the Governor’s office and the legislature in the weeks ahead to ensure that the needs of students with disabilities are met, resulting in better overall outcomes and preparation.
BPDD advocates on behalf of individuals with developmental disabilities, fosters welcoming and inclusive communities, and works to improve the disability service system. The Board's mission is to help people with developmental disabilities become independent, productive, and included in all facets of community life.