I am a husband, father, son, brother, uncle and friend. I believe in sharing my talents and experiences by giving back to the community by giving my time to coaching, church and especially to the disability community. I truly believe that all men and women are created equally.
The Senate Committee on Education is holding its public hearing on the Special Needs Voucher Bill (SB486) today.
Having attended a parochial school from 3rd grade through High School, I understand the importance of a Catholic education. Looking back, it was a good choice for me, especially the discipline part. But as I have become a parent, I would have liked to have the opportunity to send all of my kids through the same educational opportunities that I had, but things just did not work out that way. Having a son with a developmental disability changed that. When he was younger we did look into our options and a parochial education was really not going to work for him. The extra services were just not available. We would have had to arrange for transportation from one school to the Cudahy School system to receive the extra services that Tyler needs. This made no sense for us. Too much time would have been wasted during the school day in a car, taking away valuable education time.
My wife and I have always said that our kids will be going to the same school; we are not breaking up our family. We are happy with our choice.
Tyler is now a part of his community; he is as much a part of the Cudahy school system as any student that attends any of the Cudahy schools. Tyler is known in his school. Tyler is active in his school. Tyler is active in his community. This has been a good fit for Tyler, as well as his sister and brother, who are also active in their school and the community. This is a good fit for us.
As I mentioned last week, there are problems with this bill as it is currently written.
While the sponsors of the bill have changed from the Florida model to an Ohio model, I still have some concerns.
This bill is being promoted as a bill that gives parents of children with disabilities choice and the opportunity to attend private school. While Wisconsin disability advocates, for which I am a proud member, have been consulted in the drafting of this bill, it still contains several non-negotiable problems. I, along with no other statewide disability organizations support this bill, for many of the same reasons.
First, the funding calculation does not create choice for all families. There is no way that either a child with complex needs or a family with less financial means could access the scholarship. If available to one, it should be available to all students, no exceptions
Second, this bill does not, like the Ohio bill, require that the voucher school have qualified staff, including special education teachers, who can provide the specialized supports that a child who has an IEP (Individualized Education Program) requires. If the IEP references occupational, physical or speech and language therapy, who will be on staff to administer these services?
Third, although the bill references IEP's, there is no accountability, and the family has no rights if it is not implemented. There are no remedies for a school’s failures. No yearly IEP meeting is required. If a student’s needs or goals change, it will be up to the family and the school to come to agreement on how to move forward, but nothing official like an IEP.
Fourth, there is no mechanism to return funding to the public school if a private school ultimately fails the child, the funding mechanism takes public special education funding away from the child's public school, which may affect the supports available to the children who remain. What incentive does a voucher school have if once they have the tax payer money and they know that they will not have to return if they fail the student to give that student the education they need to succeed?
Next, in a public school, students with special education needs can remain in the school until age 21. The voucher schools only will take the students up to age 18. If a student requires additional education supports, they will have to go back to their neighborhood school for these needed supports. Back to a place where they have not been a part of the community in a long time, with new students who may or may not know the student.
Finally, I have questions on the transition planning (http://dpi.wi.gov/sped/transition.html) that are currently being done in the public schools. Since there are no updates to the IEP, transition plans will be up to the family to work with the school to implement this. But the school will not have any obligation to provide this very important function of a students need to succeed. This is where Tyler is. We are starting to think about his transition goals. This is extremely important to me to ensure Tyler’s success as an adult.