Jun 3 2011

School Vouchers Press Release

Posted by DAWN at 9:19 AM
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- Categories: Miscellaneous | Press Releases

Contact: Beth Swedeen, Executive Director, beth.swedeen@wisconsin.gov; (608) 266-1166

BPDD Concerned About Impacts Of Expanded Voucher Programs On Students With Disabilities

As the Joint Committee on Finance considers expanding Milwaukee school choice later this week, the Wisconsin Board for People with Developmental Disabilities (BPDD) wants to clarify the impact of choice on students with disabilities. Assembly Bill 94 would expand voucher programs in Wisconsin to cities outside Milwaukee. Likewise, A.B. 110 would create special needs vouchers for students with disabilities wishing to attend private or parochial school.

The BPDD recognizes that many students in Wisconsin – particularly low-income students and students with disabilities – are not getting their needs met or making progress toward outcomes that prepare them for adulthood and employment in their home school districts. However, the BPDD has a number of concerns with the expansion of voucher programs as the central effort to reform public education in Wisconsin. 

“One of our most significant concerns about the expansion of vouchers to improve educational outcomes is that these private schools have no obligation to provide a rigorous curriculum, certified teachers, appropriate modifications and accommodations, or report progress,” said Beth Swedeen, BPDD executive director. “In fact, families who would choose special needs vouchers would give up all their protections under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Not a single disability advocacy group in the state supports this bill.”

Swedeen cited recent findings from a University of Arkansas study of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program that found that students using vouchers did not have better standardized test results compared with MPS students. In math, they actually scored significantly lower. Likewise, special needs voucher programs in other states have not resulted in demonstrably better outcomes for students with disabilities whose families have chosen to participate. 

In Milwaukee, the existing voucher programs have accepted fewer students with disabilities than non-voucher private and parochial schools across the state. While nearly 20% of MPS students have documented disabilities, Milwaukee voucher programs have accepted just above 1% of students with disabilities, leading to increased segregation of students with disabilities in MPS. Likewise, special needs voucher programs in other states have led to a proliferation of segregated “special needs schools” that cater to voucher families.

Meanwhile, both these voucher programs would strip current public schools of much-needed dollars at a time when public schools already are experiencing record-breaking cuts in state spending.

Swedeen said the BPDD and other disability advocates welcome the opportunity to work with policymakers in crafting reform efforts that have an evidence-base and demonstrated track record in producing improved outcomes for all students, including those with disabilities.

“We agree with Governor Walker that we must improve accountability and elevate outcomes for all students,” she said.

“But we must make sure that the strategies in which we invest produce results. This includes improving teacher pre-service training, implementing positive behavior supports and anti-bullying programs, incentivizing co-teaching and teaming, and promoting universally-designed curricula. Unlike vouchers, we have seen the data that these changes make measurable differences for students and families.”

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