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ACLU of WI Urges Legislators to Reject Flawed Disability Voucher Plan

5 Mar

Today the ACLU of Wisconsin urged legislators to reject a plan that could unintentionally worsen the quality of education for students with disabilities in Wisconsin. While AB 110 would provide vouchers for students with disabilities to attend religious or private schools in Wisconsin, the bill wouldn’t ensure that voucher-subsidized schools would provide adequate services. Without holding these schools to improved and consistent standards, this tax subsidy to religious and private schools would take away scarce resources from public schools.

“The ACLU of Wisconsin continues our objection to subsidizing religious and other private schools with taxpayer dollars while they refuse to be held to the same non-discrimination and accountability standards as the public school system,” said Executive Director Chris Ahmuty. “Our flawed school funding formula already makes our neighborhood schools do more with less. This bill would make the problem worse by taking already limited funds away from the public school system and handing over funds to religious and private schools without assuring parents that those schools will adequately serve their children.”

The ACLU of Wisconsin has had a long-held position against the school voucher or Milwaukee Parental Choice program because it is a failed scheme that is a misuse of tax dollars and doesn’t advance Wisconsin toward ensuring equal and adequate education for all students. In fact, the ACLU of Wisconsin partnered with Disability Rights Wisconsin last year to file a federal disability discrimination claim against the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program because of systemic discrimination against students with disabilities who weren’t adequately supported or who were outright rejected by voucher-dependent schools.

Other flaws in this bill include weak or non-existent requirements for these schools to regularly review a student’s Individualized Education Plan or even provide certified teachers or services. Religious and Private schools make their own assessments about what defines special education and parents have fewer rights and remedies if their child does not receive adequate services. The per-pupil amount of the voucher is capped, but the tuition of the school that receives the voucher is not. This will lend to more systemic discrimination when parents who have the most resources use tax vouchers, while low-income families with children who have more expensive accommodation needs must choose between giving up services or staying at their neighborhood school.

All students have an equal right to schools that adequately serve their educational needs. However, this bill is structured in a way that will weaken the adequacy of public schools while at the same time giving a greater share of monetary support to religious and private schools that do not have the same standards of accountability. Expanding the voucher scheme either through this flawed disability scholarship plan or to allow for vouchers in school districts beyond Milwaukee or Racine would not provide meaningful or effective education reform in Wisconsin.

Read the ACLU of Wisconsin’s letter to the state Assembly online: 20120305 AB 110 opposition letter to Assembly

Milwaukee Voucher Schools Discriminate Against Students with Disabilities, Allege ACLU, Disability Rights WI: Federal Investigation Requested Today

7 Jun

The American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation, and Disability Rights Wisconsin filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division today, charging discriminatory practices in Milwaukee’s private voucher schools have led to an egregious segregation of students with disabilities. The complaint was filed against the State of Wisconsin, its Department of Public Instruction and two voucher schools. The groups say that Wisconsin has failed to hold taxpayer-funded private voucher schools accountable for serving children with disabilities, and has created a program that segregates and isolates children with disabilities.

“Twenty years of offering vouchers to attend private schools in Milwaukee have demonstrated that children with disabilities are not welcome in Milwaukee’s private schools,” said Jeffrey Spitzer-Resnick, attorney for Disability Rights Wisconsin. “Even worse is when these voucher schools occasionally accept children with disabilities, take their voucher funds, and then expel them without recourse leaving the family no other option than to return to Milwaukee Public Schools. In fact our complaint includes one family whose children with disabilities were not admitted to a voucher school, and another whose disabled child was kicked out of a voucher school and sent back to the public school system.”

“This failure of voucher schools to serve children with disabilities has led to the segregation of children with disabilities within Milwaukee Public Schools, while reducing resources the public school system needs to educate all students,” added Courtney Bowie, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Racial Justice Program.

“Right now only about 1.6% of voucher students have disabilities, while 19.5% of Milwaukee Public School students do,” said Karyn Rotker, senior staff attorney with the ACLU of Wisconsin. “Increasing the size of the voucher program – as the state intends to do – will only lead to even more discrimination and more segregation of children with disabilities. We hope DOJ will step in to stop that from occurring.”

Read more on the national ACLU website. This story also received coverage in the Wisconsin State Journal and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel as well as the Huffington Post, WUWM-FM, WORT-FM‘s In Our Backyard and the 8 O’clock Buzz, Disability Scoop, The American Independent and Education Week.

Milwaukee School Voucher Experiment Fails Students, Exit Strategy Needed

7 Apr

It is time to end the school voucher program in Milwaukee after years of failure.

Today the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin urged the co-chairs of the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee on Finance to adopt an exit strategy for the school voucher program.

“If we continue to prop up failing schools by giving them taxpayer-funded vouchers we only make it harder and more expensive to undo the harm later,” wrote ACLU of Wisconsin Executive Director Chris Ahmuty.

While recent reports from the School Choice Demonstration Project are not conclusive, these reports confirm that “more than 120, mostly small, Milwaukee schools that taxpayers support with tuition vouchers are performing at or below the levels achieved by comparable students attending Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS).”

ACLU of Wisconsin’s Ahmuty added, “We believe that the school voucher scheme has always been a distraction. Real improvement in our public schools has to provide an adequate education for all children across the state. We wrote the Joint Finance Committee co-chairs to get the Legislature to cut our losses and reallocate resources to where they will do the most good for our public schools.”

Ahmuty added, ”The voucher system has been particularly hard on Milwaukee’s students of color because the racial gap in performance is widening compared to the rest of the nation. Legislators in Madison have to stop pretending vouchers are a legitimate response to conditions in the state’s largest city.”

Ahmuty concluded, “Given the current financial pressure on our educational system, we don’t have the luxury of continuing a failed experiment that may look good to some, but doesn’t deliver for tomorrow’s citizens, workers and families.”