Special Needs Voucher Program Costs Districts $2.4M Its First Year

202 Eligible Students Each Received $12,000 Vouchers To Attend Private Schools

Line of school buses
Seth Perlman/AP Photo

A new voucher program for students with special needs is moving $2.4 million in state aid from public schools to private schools this year, according to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.

The Special Needs Scholarship Program gave 202 qualified Wisconsin students state-funded tuition vouchers worth $12,000 each to attend participating private schools.

“Giving state aid to a school that is no longer educating a child equates to paying property taxes on a home you no longer live in,” Wisconsin Sen. Leah Vukmir, R-Brookfield, and author of the program’s bill, said in a statement. “Tax dollars should follow the child and their educational needs, as determined by their parents.”

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The program offered two eligibility options. The first stated a student had to be enrolled in a public school the previous school year, have an Individualized Education Program and have been denied a seat in a public school from a different district during open-enrollment.

The second option stated a student only needed to have an IEP and have been denied during open-enrollment during the past five school years.

Many of the new vouchers supported students already attending private schools, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Disability Rights Wisconsin was opposed to the legislation, which was inserted into the state budget last year. Lead advocate Sally Flaschberger said the issue is protections under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act do not transfer over to private schools.

Private schools accepting students with vouchers are required to implement an IEP agreed upon between parents and the schools, according to the DPI’s news release. However, the students are no longer entitled to the legal remedies provided by that program.

“If a parent disagrees with the school or if (the school does not follow the IEP), there’s not those due process rights where if they have an issue they can file a complaint or that they would have within the public school,” Flaschberger said.

Milwaukee Public Schools had the most deductions in state aid at $1.8 million.

Next year, all eligible students will have had to attend a public school during the previous school year.