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.
We knew it would be back, I’ve told you it would be back. Some have been keeping an eye on the agenda on a daily basis. It seems like it is a bi-yearly ritual. Yes, another attempt at a special needs voucher legislation is set to be introduced on January 21.
Each time the issue has been brought up, parents and disability organizations from across the State use a grass roots approach to defeating this flawed attempt at providing choice to students and their families. I work with a group, Stop Special Needs Vouchers, which is passionate about not allowing this legislation to pass. We are a group of parents from across the State of Wisconsin that does not believe that this is true choice when it comes to education. It is what the voucher schools do not have to offer in the way of supports, such as speech therapy or trained special education teachers to name two that we believe that our public school is the best choice for our children.
I’ve said it each time this issue comes up. When one is forced to give up rights, in this case the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) rights, then it is not a choice. Having been a part of the fight against this legislation since it was first introduced in Wisconsin back in 2011, I have spoken to many people across Wisconsin that like the idea. But once they learn what they are giving up in the way of IEP and IDEA protections, they do not support the idea. They ask me why they are not being told that they are giving up their child’s rights; I tell them that if they knew about this, then there would be even less support for the Legislation. Those that support the Legislation say that it is not their responsibility to educate the families on the entire requirements of the voucher, knowing they would lack the necessary support if it were disclosed on the front end.
I think that in light of the recent stories of LifeSkills Academy abruptly closing their doors, this should not even be considered at this time. In this specific case, the owners of LifeSkills received almost a quarter of a million dollars this year and over $2 million in the years they have been open, had an abysmal record when it comes educating students, then closed their doors and left town with our Wisconsin taxpayer money. They opened a school in Florida, probably with some of our Wisconsin tax dollars, under the Florida McKay Scholarship, which was the blueprint for the initial Wisconsin Legislation. There are no mechanisms in place to get this money back. Now, every student is no longer being given a choice and they need to return to their neighborhood public school. The big difference is that the school districts are not given any funding to educate these students, which they will do, with or without the funding, because that is what public schools do. They educate everyone.
Unlike the Choice Voucher legislation, Special Needs Voucher schools do not need to be established for 2 years prior to being able to accept taxpayer voucher dollars. They can start operating tomorrow and be qualified to get taxpayer funds. What is to prevent a similar situation like LifeSkills from occurring again? It is a problem in Florida and I can promise you that it will become a problem in Wisconsin.
Ask any member of the Cudahy education community, from the administration to the School Board to the teachers. I guarantee you they could find great uses for that almost quarter of a million taxpayer dollars that are now gone forever. One school skipping town with my tax dollars is one school to many and that is not acceptable.
As the legislation works it way through the process, I promise you I will fill in the blanks that are left out.