Wisconsin students with disabilities often denied public school options

Mario Koran:

Less talked about, however, is how the state’s biggest choice program, open enrollment, excludes students with disabilities. Roughly 70,000 Wisconsin students attend public schools outside their home districts through the 25-year-old open enrollment program. It allows students to apply to better-resourced public schools outside of district boundaries. But those schools can limit or deny slots for out-of-district students with disabilities.

Wisconsin districts in 2021-22 received 41,554 open enrollment applications, about 14% of which represented students with disabilities, Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction data show. Schools rejected about 40% of applications in that category, with lack of special education space as the most common reason for the denials. By comparison, school districts rejected only 14% of applications from students without disabilities. 

Last year, for example, one suburban Madison district announced 115 slots for incoming open enrollment students — but none for children with disabilities.

The denials tie students to their home district school, underscoring how a child’s ZIP code shapes opportunities. The effect is compounded for students with disabilities.

More via the Wisconsin coalition for education freedom.