Special Needs Voucher Scam Fully Revealed

Although disability advocates put up a good fight and prevented private school voucher advocates from passing a special needs voucher bill a few years ago, ultimately, the well financed influential voucher lobbyists prevailed and Wisconsin will send taxpayer dollars to uncertified private schools who claim an ability to serve children with disabilities, while stripping parents and their children who take these vouchers of all their rights.

Yesterday, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) revealed the list of 28 private schools that have agreed to take special needs vouchers in the 2016-17 school year. A thorough review of the descriptions of these schools reveals that this program is a genuine scam siphoning taxpayer dollars while promising little to children with disabilities.

Among the most troubling aspects revealed by this list include:

  • 25 of 28 are private religious schools, all of which are rooted in Christianity;
  • 22 of 28 are in the Milwaukee Metropolitan area so most of the state will have no access to this program;
  • Only 1 of 28 claims to be wheelchair accessible, while 8 others admit that they are not accessible in  clear violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and the remaining 19 are silent on the issue, suggesting that they are not ADA accessible;
  • The Bethel Evangelical Lutheran School concedes that: “Special Education Program limits include limited maximum hours/time designated to any one student (60- 90 minutes daily) as a result of multiple students needing services.” This school concedes that it has no staff with special education licensure.
  • When identifying, “Methods of instruction that will be used by the school to provide special education and related services to SNSP students,” Concordia Lutheran School states that it,”exists for the purpose of “Bringing Christ and excellence in academics to our children for life and forever”. The aim of this ministry is to assist parents:
    1. In helping their children grow in the love and knowledge of Christ, their Savior;
    2. In giving their children a Christian education and training according to the Word of God, for daily living in service to God and their neighbor.”

    great-fake-id-scam

  • Similarly, “Immanuel Lutheran School exists to share the love of Christ.” It has no special education certified staff.
  • Lutheran Special School & Education Services, “provides Christ centered programs and services.” The school concedes that it, “does not provide speech and language therapy, occupational therapy or physical therapy.”
  • The Divine Redeemer Lutheran School identifies no special education services that it will provide. Instead it lists: 1) Speech and language services are provided on campus through the local public school district; 2) A variety of math classes are offered in the middle school to match students with their skill level; and 3) the Accelerated Reader program is in wide use in our school.
  • The Granville, Pilgrim, Renaissance, Saint Martini, Sherman Park and the Northwest Lutheran Schools (all part of LUMIN schools) only identify that they will help children with Specific Learning Disabilities and speech and language issues and concede that they are not wheelchair accessible.
  • Heritage Christian Schools states that it will serve students with “mild learning disabilities or needs” even though students with “mild” needs do not generally qualify for special education.
  • Pius XI Catholic High School provides a college prep program only for students with Specific Learning Disabilities or “similar educational disabilities.”
  • The St. Coletta Day School, “is best suited for students who are…capable of academic achievement and possess sufficient self-care skills to be independent.”
  • St. Paul Lutheran School does NOT offer, ‘handicap accessible rooms/building or full-time one-to-one instructors or educational aides.’
  • Only 1 school (Saint Marcus Lutheran) states that it serves children with autism, cognitive disabilities, emotional behavior disabilities and other severe disabilities.

Since the program does not start providing education to children until the coming school year, it is too soon to tell how the students with disabilities whose parents obtain taxpayer funded vouchers for them to attend these will fare. Of course, everyone hopes that they do well, but based on the description of their programs, most of these so-called special needs voucher schools are clearly ill-equipped to provide an appropriate education to the vast majority of Wisconsin students with disabilities, revealing that this program is simply a bad idea.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish progressive, effective systems change, contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his web site: Systems Change Consulting.

 

 

 

21st Century Wild, Wild West

As the U.S. continues to struggle over gun violence, it appears that America’s love affair with the wild, wild west, where vigilantism and gun violence were rampant and romanticized has simply modernized and nationalized. We have regressed from using rifles and six-shooters in barely settled western towns to living in a nation where anyone can be killed or maimed at any time by assault weapons legally obtained by people on terror watch lists or toddlers pulling mommy’s handgun out of her purse and shooting her to death.

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Hickok-Tutt duel February 1867-Harper’s Monthly

The real question, of course, is why 21st century American gun policy appears stuck in the 19th century. The latest polling data shows that a majority of Americans want more gun control:

  • 55% favor stricter gun controls;
  • 92% favor universal background checks that will forbid gun sales to those convicted of felonies;
  • 54% favor a ban on the manufacture, sale and possessions of semi-automatic assault weapons;
  • 54% favor a ban on the sale and possession of equipment known as high-capacity or extended ammunition clips;
  • 87% favor banning convicted felons from possessing guns; and
  • 85% favor preventing people on the U.S. terrorism or no-fly list from owning guns.

Yet, despite mass shooting after mass shooting from Sandy Hook to Orlando and countless tragic places in between, our dysfunctional Congress refuses to pass any meaningful gun control legislation. Worse yet, there are legislators who continue to propose legislation that would make gun possession more likely.

Contrary to any reasonable pro-business, local control ideology, a Wisconsin Republican state representative Bob Gannon is responding to the Orlando massacre by proposing legislation that would hold business owners liable for triple damages if they ban weapons in their business, but someone is shot there. Hopefully, this piece of retrograde legislation will be soundly rejected. However, the sad reality is that the United States will never change its gun laws until voters make gun control a deciding factor when they cast their votes.

The late, great disability advocate Justin Dart was well known for his saying, “Vote as if your life depends upon it, because it does.” In the case of reasonable gun control legislation, he was exactly right. In November, and in every election in the future, American voters can and should choose to vote as if their lives depended on it, and vote for candidates that support the majority view that we can and should have reasonable gun control across our nation. Every such vote has the potential of saving lives, including your own.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish progressive, effective systems change, contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his web site: Systems Change Consulting.

Inclusion in the Family

We all have telephone calls we receive that we never forget. Two calls which I will never forget came from my brother-in-law and sister-in-law, Jeff and Miriam. The first call informed us that their 4th child, Arielle, was born, which was wonderful. However, they reported that Arielle had a stroke in utero which resulted in cerebral palsy.

Much to the credit of Jeff and Miriam, they were determined that Arielle would get the medical and therapeutic care that she needed, as well as a high quality education. Her 3 older siblings, were very supportive, and the family included Arielle in all their travels and adventures. Although the cerebral palsy weakened Arielle’s right side, she persevered and participated in all the physical activities at school and in the neighborhood park, as well as the many hikes her family enjoyed.

Her mother, Miriam, is a Rabbi, and her father, Jeff, is a Jewish educator. They made sure that she got a high quality Jewish education, including learning the Hebrew language and prayers, and most important of all, Jewish values.

When Arielle was growing, she often needed to use a brace to support her left lower leg. This made her disability visible to others, including some neighbors, who created the reason for the second call that I remember so clearly. Apparently, a neighbor did not think it was appropriate for Arielle to ride a bicycle like all the other children her age, so she called the police. The police, in turn, contacted child protective services (CPS), who contacted Jeff and Miriam, to investigate. Jeff and Miriam called me for legal advice and I supported them in being completely honest with the county social worker to inform them that they wanted Arielle to have all the joys of childhood and that she was perfectly capable of riding her bicycle regardless of the misperceptions of their neighbor. Fortunately, CPS closed the case without further action.

Two years ago, Arielle and her parents moved from Massachusetts, where she had lived her entire life, to Greensboro, North Carolina, which was a challenging change for Arielle. In addition to a significant cultural change, it required her to make new friends and navigate around a brand new school. A couple of weeks ago, my wife and I were pleased to travel to Greensboro to watch Arielle receive her diploma with a variety of academic honors, from Grimsley High School.

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Arielle in cap & gown with her parents Jeff & Miriam, and sister Leora, who recently graduated from Washington University.

The graduation took place in the evening. After the graduation, the school held an overnight alcohol-free party for the graduates. Arielle does not drive yet, so her mother took her to the party which started at 11 PM. Her parents assured her that they would keep their cell phones on overnight by their pillows in case she wanted to come home early.

My wife and I were staying in a guest house across the street from Jeff, Miriam and Arielle’s home. I am an early riser and shortly after I wake up, I meditate. While meditating, I relax my eyes and while they are often closed, occasionally they open. The morning after Arielle’s graduation, while meditating, I opened my eyes to see Arielle walking up to her house at around 6:15 AM, after being dropped off by a friend. That is a beautiful inclusive vision that I will never forget.

Arielle has been admitted to the University of Hartford, but she is contemplating taking a gap year before starting college. I am confident that whatever she decides, she will continue as she has done thought her life, to move through life with joy and confidence that she can and will be included in whatever she chooses to do.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.

Close the Achievement Gap: Increase Intensive Support

As the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) Board of Education reviews the budget which its administration has prepared for the coming year, it would be wise to take a close look at its continuing problem with the ongoing racial, disability and poverty achievement gap and focus on how appropriate staffing can help to close that gap. While some improvements have been made, persistent gaps remain.

Students simply will not succeed if they are not in school. During the 2014-15 school year 2,477 MMSD students were habitually truant (meaning 5 or more days of unexcused absence from school) representing 9.8% of all MMSD students. But 1,235 of those students (nearly half) were African-American, representing 26.9% of all MMSD African-American students.

During that same year, MMSD suspended 1,713 students. But, 1,069 of them were African-American representing well over half of those suspended students. 402 of MMSD suspended students had disabilities, representing 10.9% of all MMSD students with disabilities, nearly half of all MMSD suspended students. While the data does not reveal how many African-American students with disabilities were suspended, when one adds the African-American suspended students and the suspended students with disabilities, that number almost equals all MMSD suspended students so it is safe to assume that African-American students with disabilities have the highest rate of suspension in the district.

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That MMSD’s discipline data reveals troubling racial and disability disparities is consistent with national data. But that should come as no solace to anyone, as nobody should admire the data. Instead, we need to apply solutions that we know will work to solve the problem.

While MMSD’s Behavior Education Plan has succeeded in significantly reducing the total number of suspensions, it also reveals another glaring gap for children in poverty. While 48% of MMSD students qualify for free or reduced lunch, a shocking 89% of MMSD suspensions were doled out to low-income students.

Finally, graduation rates also reveal a troubling achievement gap. At the end of the 2014-15 school year, 80.1% of MMSD seniors graduated in 4 years. But only 57.8% of African-American students; 56.8% of students with disabilities; and 62.1% of low-income students graduate in 4 years.

Fortunately, MMSD has a program designed to address the needs of its students with the most intensive needs. The Intensive Support Team (IST) takes requests from MMSD staff to address the needs of students in crisis. As of May 2, 2016, during this school year, there were 455 requests for support to IST. Of these, 411 were served by the team in one of several capacities (consultation, intake/assessment, professional development, short term stabilization), 250 were closed and the rest still active. This means that nearly 10% of referrals were not served and over 1/2 of all referrals are still receiving intensive supports.

Unfortunately, staff cuts were made to this team last year and the administration’s proposed budget does not propose to fill those cuts. The good news is that the budget is still in the discussion stage. School board member Anna Moffit has proposed to increase the IST staff by 3.5 FTE staff to address the unmet need for these students at a cost of approximately $250,000. In an era of tight budgets and state imposed revenue caps, Ms. Moffit recognizes that the money must come from somewhere so she has identified the following reasonable places where this money can be found: reduce spending on Technology Plan; reduce spending on Educational Resource Officers; or utilize funds saved from not filling the position of Special Assistant to the Superintendent ($125,000 dollars).

The school board and our community must recognize that failing to meet the needs of these students has a significant cost both to these students and to society at large. A recent report by the UCLA Civil Rights project from which I extrapolated the high cost of suspensions in Wisconsin, reveals that each suspended student who fails to graduate results in:

  • $19,572 in fiscal costs; and
  • $60,962 in societal costs.

Thus, if the IST is able to help only 5 more students at risk of suspension to graduate, it will have saved our community far more money than the additional cost which Ms. Moffit proposes spending on this worthy program. Thus, her proposal makes senses for educational, equitable, social and economic reasons and should therefore receive the support of the full school board.

Residents of MMSD who support Ms. Moffit’s proposal should e-mail the school board to encourage them to approve her amendment at: board@madison.k12.wi.us.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.

 

The High Cost of School Suspensions

While many school officials choose to suspend students who misbehave either to teach them a lesson or simply to remove a child who may have caused a disruption in school, they need to understand the long term consequences to both the suspended child and to society as a whole which result from these suspensions.

Today, the UCLA Civil Rights Project released an in-depth report on, The High Cost of Harsh Discipline and its Disparate Impact which takes a comprehensive look at the impact of school suspensions on children and society.

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This study demonstrates markedly lower graduation rates for students who are suspended even one time. Nationally, the graduation rate drops by 12 percentage points for suspended students!

The report then goes on to calculate the fiscal and social costs of suspensions which lead to high school drop outs.

The consequences are expressed as the lifetime differences between dropouts and graduates in: incomes; taxes paid; government spending on health, crime, and welfare; tax distortions; and productivity gains. Although the fiscal and social costs are related, the social costs include the aggregate losses incurred by dropouts personally such as their lower income, diminished productivity, and higher expenditures on health care due to poorer health. The fiscal costs are a subset of the social costs and cover only the losses experienced by federal, state and local governments due to lower income tax revenues and higher government expenditures on health and social services, and on the criminal justice system.

The report estimates that the national average economic loss per high school non-graduate due to suspension is:

  • fiscal costs to taxpayers: $163,340/suspended non-graduating student
  • social costs to society: $527, 695/suspended non-graduating student

When one multiplies all suspended non-graduates by these economic losses, the national economic impact is tremendous:

  • overall national fiscal cost to taxpayer: $11 billion due to suspended non-graduates
  • overall national social cost to society: $35.7 billion due to suspended non-graduates

On an optimistic note, the report then estimates the nationwide economic benefits achieved by reducing suspensions. For each percentage point of reduction, our nation would save:

  • $691 million saved in fiscal costs/1% reduction in suspension rate
  • $2.2 billion saved in social costs/1% reduction in suspension rates.

The report examines 2 states, Florida and California, but it encourages educators and policymakers to apply this impact to every other state. Thus, in examining Wisconsin’s suspension rate, while the suspension rate has been going down, in 2014-15, Wisconsin school districts nevertheless suspended 31,167 students, or 3.6% of all enrolled students. Using the report’s data, and applying the national average 12% increase in drop-out rate for suspended students, this means that the total economic impact for Wisconsin suspended non-graduates is estimated to be:

  • $610 million fiscal cost to Wisconsin taxpayers due to suspended non-graduates
  • $1.9 billion social cost to Wisconsin society due to suspended non-graduates

The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction provides suspension data by school district, race/ethnicity, gender and disability. For example, in the Madison area, the Beloit School District has the highest rate of suspension at 10.1% (nearly 3 times the state average). Racial disparities exist throughout the state. Statewide, Wisconsin school districts suspended 15.1% African-American students in 2014-15, nearly 5 times the state average. Beloit once again has troubling racial disparities, having suspended 21.8% of its African-American students that year.

Disparities are also troubling for students with disabilities. Statewide 9.5% of students with disabilities were suspended statewide (nearly 3 times the statewide average). Once again, Beloit exhibits disturbing disparities, having suspended 22.9% of its students with disabilities that year.

Thus, the economic impact on the most disadvantaged groups of students is many times higher than for white non-disabled students.

The report concludes with 3 major recommendations:

  1. When federal and state governments create and implement evaluation and oversight plans for schools and districts they should include suspension rates among the indicators they use to determine whether schools are high performing or in need of assistance.
  2. Use the suspension data as part of an early warning system for schools and districts. Thus, as more districts with high suspension rates explore alternatives, we will need data to help them distinguish between effective and ineffective interventions and policy changes.
  3. State and federal policymakers should provide schools and districts with incentives to improve their school climate, such as grants for substantial teacher and administrator trainings, and resources targeted at improving the collection and use of discipline data at the school level.

These are all excellent ideas, and local school districts need not wait for state and federal policymakers to implement local changes to reduce suspensions, thereby increasing graduation rates, and reducing fiscal and social costs to all of us. This report demonstrates that the investments are well worth the money and effort.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.