Success! Public Education For Special Needs Kids Saved in Wisconsin

Every student with disabilities, no matter where they live or what their family’s circumstances, is entitled to a “free and appropriate education” under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).In theory, this means that every student with a disability should get the education she or he needs from their public school system. In practice, many do not, and parents find themselves having to advocate — and, in some cases, take legal action — to get their children the education they need.

Making things even harder, some have been calling for vouchers that would take public funds away from public schools and transfer them to private schools.

Earlier this year,Wisconsin Republicans proposed a measure for such special needs vouchers. Care2 member Joanne Juhnke of Stop Special Needs Vouchers Wisconsin started a petition to stop it. More than 1,100 Care2 members signed her petition and the bill died in committee.

You can be sure a huge sigh of relief went up among Wisconsin families whose children’s diagnoses range from autism to Down Syndrome to cerebral palsy to many others.

The special needs voucher bill was essentially a revised version of a measure that had failed in the 2013-2015 budget of GovernorScott Walker. Supporters of the special needs vouchers bill argued that it would provide children with disabilities — who often face complex educational challenges requiring highly specialized instructional programs — with greater “flexibility” and “options.”

But the vouchers put the education of special needs students at risk. It is thanks to IDEA that students with disabilities have rights and protectionsthat do not routinely apply in private schools as they do not have to comply with the same regulations for oversight as their public counterparts. In some cases, private schools have misused taxpayers’ dollars: Last fall, administrators at some New Jersey private schools for students with disabilities were found to have used public funds for “high executive salaries, generous pensions, fancy cars and questionable business deals.” Concerns have also been raised aboutthe use of controversial procedures includingrestraints and seclusion rooms in private vs. public schools.

Joanne and other advocates knew they had to make sure taxpayers’ dollars are used to fund our public schools. On February 13, theypresented the first 391 signatures on their Care2 petition to the Wisconsin Senate Education Committee. The committee chair was “outspokenly interested” to read the many comments that Care2 members had written on the petition (proof positive that yes, people do read the comments that you leave).

By the time of a public hearing on February 19, the signature count on the petition had grown past 1,000. Stop Special Needs Vouchers Wisconsin delivered all of these to the Wisconsin Assembly Education Committee that day.

The next step was for both theWisconsin Senate Education Committee and theWisconsin Assembly Education Committee (where Republican legislators were likely to support the measure) to vote. But then a funny thing happened: The bill calling for special needs vouchers died in committee,and Joanne closed the petition because Stop Special Needs Vouchers Wisconsin had won its campaign and saved public education for students with disabilities across the state.

There’s still more work to be done to preserve every child with a disability’s right to an education. The chairs of both Wisconsin education committees are Republicans and are being pressured by those who think private interests and agencies, should have a greater role in public education.

I live in the Bay Area in northern California, far from Wisconsin. My teenage son, Charlie, is on the severe end of the autism spectrum and has been in special education for all of his life. He has very complex learning needs and, without the protections of IDEA, would not be assured of the public education that is teaching him the skills he will need to lead as independent a life as he can.

It is crucial that we make sure all children with disabilities like Charlie and many others receive the education they more than merit and that funds for this go to public schools. That’s why, wherever you are, it’s more than worth taking action and starting a petition to protect our children’s education and future.

Photo via Thinkstock


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Kathy S.
Kathy S2 years ago

figures, Scott Walker; vote him out!!

Nicole Heindryckx

Well, I am a bit late to react, but just saw this article this evening. I remember having signed and shared the petition, and also that I was very angry about the way disabled children (as well as adults) are treated, and I felt so sorry for the children and parents. Their lives is already difficult enough that they do not need to fight for a RIGHT each child has, namely education. I hope that this case may be the start to inspire other schools and authorities to treat handicapped people as normal people. It is not because there is something wrong with your back, your legs or your feet, and have to live in a wheel chair that your brains do not function either. On the contrary. Each of these children are FIGHTERS and they generally as successful as other children. Because they have been put aside already so many times, they obtain the gift NOT to judge easily on the behavior or attitude of other children or adults.

Aly G.
Aly G2 years ago

It's nice to see some positive feedback from petitions :)

Marcella T.
Marcella T2 years ago

I will be sure to leave comments on petitions so that people can read them. Interesting how excited the committee chair was about the comments.

Anne F.
Anne F2 years ago

thanks for working to support great, free, local public schools

Marina Polazzo
Marina P2 years ago

thanks for the article, good news

Peter Fischer
Peter F3 years ago

Very nice, Success! (y)