Few students with disabilities benefit from Wisconsin’s school choice programsThe new state budget expands school choice, giving up to 500 low-income parents the option of sending their kids to private schools this fall.
By: By Tegan Wendland, Wisconsin Public Radio, Superior Telegram
The new state budget expands school choice, giving up to 500 low-income parents the option of sending their kids to private schools this fall.
But the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism finds that for students with disabilities, the choices are more limited.
Choice schools cannot legally deny enrollment to students because they have disabilities, but they’re not required to meet students’ special needs like public schools.
Monica Murphy, an attorney for the advocacy group Disability Rights Wisconsin, says Milwaukee’s choice program has discriminated against students with disabilities for several years. In April, the U.S. Department of Justice said the state must do more to track discrimination.
“The same opportunities of choice don’t seem to happen for kids with disabilities. They’re not welcome in these schools or the schools aren’t a realistic option for them because they don’t offer the services they need.”
While 20 percent of students in Milwaukee public schools had disabilities this year, choice schools in Milwaukee reported that less than 2 percent of their students had disabilities.
Brian Pleva, a spokesman for the pro-voucher group American Federation for Children, says choice schools would be able to provide more special education services if they had more money.
Pleva: “In all reality, with the limited resources that are provided, it can be difficult for them to provide the very best education for especially severely disabled children.”
The Family Services Office of Milwaukee Public Schools helped more than 400 students switch from choice schools to public schools in the first semester of this past school year. A third of them had disabilities.
Pleva’s organization lobbied for vouchers that would bring in more money for schools that accept students with disabilities. Although this measure was removed from the budget, school choice advocates plan to take it up again in the fall.
More information can be found on the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism website at www.wisconsinwatch.org.