Study looks to add context to have choice schools handle disabled students



(The Center Square) – Authors of a study about choice schools and disabled students in Wisconsin admit there is some discrepancy but say things are not nearly as bad a school choice opponents paint them to be.

The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty and School Choice Wisconsin looked at the difference in funding between choice schools and traditional public schools when it comes to dealing with students with disabilities, the number of students with disabilities in each, and it focuses on the claim by many Democratic lawmakers that choice schools in Wisconsin discriminate against students with disabilities.

“We think this report highlights that choice schools work hard to accommodate all students. However, there are a small number of instances where a school simply may lack the facilities or means to serve a student. We argue that this is not discrimination, but rather ensures that students have their needs met,” WILL’s Will Flanders told The Center Square.

State Sen. Chris Larson, D-Milwaukee, is one of the loudest critics of school choice at the Wisconsin capital. He has, for years, accused choice schools of discrimination.

“The ugly side of school choice in Wisconsin is that it’s the schools, not the parents, that have most of the choice. Is your kid disabled or do they have special needs? Private schools can legally discriminate – even expel them – and there’s nothing you can do about it, “ Larson said on social media in May.

The new study shows there are more students with disabilities in public schools than choice schools In Wisconsin, but Flanders argues that disparity is not discrimination.

“If you are the family of a student with a disability, don’t believe recent media reports that private schools aren’t for you. Our study shows that private choice schools in Wisconsin serve far more students with disabilities than is reported to DPI, and families should not be afraid to utilize these educational options,” Flanders added.

The report also looks into the difference between how choice schools and traditional public schools are paid for disabled students. The study shows choice schools get a higher reimbursement rate, but Flanders said when you’re looking at dollars the difference is not as large.

“Public schools receive a reimbursement of approximately 30% for the costs associated with special needs students. The reimbursement rate for choice schools above the special needs voucher is 90%, but this has been overly dramatized by the news media. According to the Wisconsin Legislative Fiscal Bureau, only 9 special needs students statewide received funding at this reimbursement rate,” Flanders said. “Additionally, many students who would be classified as having special needs in public schools don’t receive the Special Needs Voucher at all partially because of the difficulty of getting diagnosed.”



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