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GOP Brings Back Plan To Allow Special Needs Students Into Voucher Schools

Opponents Say Private Schools Aren't Held To The Same Standards As Public

chairs, desks in classroom
Photo: Thomas Favre-Bulle (CC-BY-NC)

Republican state lawmakers are reviving a plan to let students with special needs enroll in publicly-funded private voucher schools.

The special needs voucher plan failed in the legislature last session, and again this session when Gov. Scott Walker tried to include it in the state budget. Sponsors say this latest version is more limited than the others.

State Rep. John Jagler, R-Watertown, said it would open up the option of voucher schools to parents who try and fail to enroll their special-needs children in other schools through the open enrollment program.

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Jagler’s daughter, who has Down syndrome, is enrolled in the local public school, but he said others may need different options. “I’m in a situation where, thankfully, I’m very pleased at the education my daughter has received,” Jagler said, “but there are others, albeit a probably very small amount, who aren’t, and are looking for help.”

Disability rights groups have vigorously fought previous versions of this plan out of fear that moving special needs students to private schools will put them at risk of not receiving services that they’re required to get at public schools under federal law.

Democrats are already lined up against the plan. Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca noted it came on the heels of a voucher school closing in Milwaukee without any warning.

“You know, until we get this issue of accountability worked out, it just startles me they would even dare to bring forward such a proposal,” Barca said. “Especially when you’re talking about people with such sensitive needs.”

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said he hopes his members will vote on the plan in February, though that hardly guarantees its passage.

It’s the state Senate where this plan has had issues. It failed to even get a vote there last session.

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