New voucher plan for Wisconsin special-needs students revives dispute

Erin Richards

A proposal to allow special-needs students to attend private schools at taxpayer expense is being revived, the latest effort by Republicans in the Legislature to give parents more options outside traditional public schools.
The proposal is a revamped version of a measure that failed in Gov. Scott Walker’s 2013-’15 budget.
That measure would have allowed 5% of students with disabilities to attend schools outside their home districts with the help of a taxpayer-funded voucher. As part of a broader compromise, the portion on students with disabilities was dropped in favor of a limited expansion of private school vouchers statewide.
The revived Wisconsin Special Needs Scholarship bill is scheduled to be introduced Tuesday by State Sens. Leah Vukmir (R-Wauwatosa) and Alberta Darling (R-River Hills), and Reps. John Jagler (R-Watertown) and Dean Knudson (R-Hudson).
The primary concern of those who oppose special-needs vouchers is that private schools are not obligated to follow federal disability laws. They point to examples in other states where — in their eyes — underqualified operators have declared themselves experts, opened schools and started tapping taxpayer money.