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.

 

 

 

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In Search of Statesmanship

Perhaps the greatest loss in the current fire & brimstone version of American politics is the virtually complete absence of genuine statesmanship.  The dictionary definition of “statesman,” is:

a wise, skillful, and respected political leader.

Note that there is no reference to political party or partisanship in this definition because a true statesman has the wisdom and skills to lead and not just the crass skill to win elections.

While there has been a long term American trend minimizing the value of statesmanship, the trend worsened after the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United in which the majority held that under the First Amendment corporate funding of independent political broadcasts in candidate elections cannot be limited.  This decision unleashed a torrent of campaign spending such as the nation has never seen before in which corporate interests spend as they please to buy the politicians that serve their interests.  Such an atmosphere makes principled statesmanship extremely challenging.

Fortunately, there are a few statesmen left, although at the federal level, one statesman who stands out has wisely chosen to stay out of electoral politics, perhaps to preserve his ability to be a statesman. Retired Gen. Colin Powell served as Secretary of State under President George W. Bush, and yet due to his statesmanship, despite being considered as a possible Vice-Presidential running mate for Presidential candidate John McCain, shortly before the 2008 election, he endorsed Barack Obama during a Meet the Press interview, citing “his ability to inspire, because of the inclusive nature of his campaign, because he is reaching out all across America, because of who he is and his rhetorical abilities,” in addition to his “style and substance.” He additionally referred to Obama as a “transformational figure“.  Crossing party lines is a true marker of statesmanship.

At the local level, Wisconsin State Senator Dale Schultz, a long time Republican, has also shown that he is a statesman.  He has been in the Wisconsin legislature since 1982, and  his overall voting record is generally that of a conservative Republican, earning him high marks from Right to Life groups, the NRA and Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce.  But ever since 2011, when he voted against his party’s budget proposal to strip union collective bargaining rights, as well as against a bill that would fast track mining in Wisconsin, he has earned the ire of many in his party and may well face a challenging primary if he chooses to run for re-election.  I worked closely with him in helping to kill and ALEC sponsored special needs voucher bill in 2012.

Wisconsin is a better place because of statesmen like Dale Schultz, and America is a better country because of statesmen like Colin Powell.  The national challenge is to make our political environment more conducive for more statesmen to practice their skillful craft.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change e-mail Jeff Spitzer-Resnick or visit Systems Change Consulting.

How Systems Change Happens

Having created progressive systems change in a variety of public policy arenas for over 27 years, many have asked me how I do it.  There is no formula for achieving systems change.  But my experience tells me that effective progressive  systems change only happens if the following elements are present:

  • Have the truth on your side.  That requires assembling data and stories that back your cause.  We did this in the 12 year campaign to pass a law prohibiting the inappropriate use of seclusion and restraint on children in Wisconsin’s public schools.
  • Educate those who need the change, the media, and those who are the decision makers required to make the change.  We accomplished this in 2011 by killing the Special Needs Voucher bill in Wisconsin despite a massive lobbying effort by the American Federation for Children (otherwise known as the lobbying arm of US Private Schools).
  • Organize supporters (or opponents, depending on the issue).  Especially when confronting powerful special interests, those seeking progressive systems change must have as many organized allies as possible.  Convincing the Wisconsin legislature to add key special education provisions to last term’s Read to Lead legislation required great organization amongst progressive reading and disability groups.
  • Litigate when necessary.  The courts are the oft forgotten branch of systems change.  Though years of unhelpful decisions often make systems change difficult in the courts, it still happens.  Our class action settlement with the Wisconsin Dept. of Public Instruction (DPI), in our case against Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS), created systems change in both of those massive bureaucracies.
  • Be Persistent.  Systems change is not for faint of heart.  Nor is it for those who are not willing and able to work hard for many years.  But remember, lack of persistence allows the other side to rule the day.  It took us 10 years to get a hearing on our seclusion and restraint bill, and 12 years to pass it.  We could have quit at any time before that and Wisconsin would continue not to have this important legislation.
  • Use all the tools above, but use them strategically and effectively.  Those who want to fight powerful, well-financed special interests, must be willing and able to use the truth, educate all concerned, organize well, litigate enough of the right cases, and be persistent.  Moreover, they must do so strategically and effectively.  Unprepared, ill-equipped advocates may cause more harm than good while fighting for a righteous cause.  Getting Gov. Walker’s signature on our seclusion and restraint legislation required using all of these tools including strong media work and publishing Out of Darkness…Into the Light. 

Many despair of the never ending legitimately awful things monied interests have foisted on the public.  But there is nothing new about the rich and powerful exerting their will on those less wealthy and powerful than them.  The challenge for those of us who want the world to be a better place is to apply these systems change principles consistently to push back on the never ending power grab by the select few.

 


For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change e-mail Jeff Spitzer-Resnick or visit Systems Change Consulting.

Why Special Needs Vouchers are Still a Bad Idea

Although Democrats in Wisconsin celebrated the victories of President Obama and Senator-elect Tammy Baldwin, Republicans rejoiced over recapturing the State Senate.  Republican control over the full legislature means many things, but as Gov. Walker recently signaled in his speech at the Reagan Library in California, among his top priorities is to expand Wisconsin’s voucher programs, including creation of a Special Needs Voucher program. During the last legislative session, Tea Party member Rep. Michelle Litjens sponsored AB 110, which would have created Special Needs Vouchers in Wisconsin.  Although she retired after just one term, the ascendency of Rep. Robin Vos to the speakership assures that his party will reintroduce some form of that legislation, which did pass the Assembly, but failed to pass the Wisconsin Senate, as there was sufficient moderate Republican opposition to allow Sen. Luther Olsen to decline to call a vote in the Senate Education Committee. As a key leader in Wisconsin’s special education movement, I was there every step of the way to raise awareness and help defeat AB 110 last session.  This included numerous meetings with Rep. Vos, Sen. Olsen, and American  Federation for Children (a/k/a school privatization through vouchers is our mission) lobbyists former Assembly Speaker Scott Jensen and former Republican spokesperson Brian Pleva. Among the reasons, a coalition of disability groups defeated AB 110 last session was that not a single disability group supported the measure.  Although the proponents of the bill traded on some parents’ legitimate frustrations with their children’s special education programs, these parents, whose children already attended private schools and therefore would receive no benefit from these vouchers, were not persuasive enough to get this bill through the Senate. Why are these vouchers such a bad idea, if parents have legitimate frustrations with their children’s special education in public school?

  • No voucher bills force private schools to accept children with disabilities.  In fact, Wisconsin’s current voucher programs have a long track record of failing to serve all but a few children with disabilities, which is currently being investigated by the US Dept. of Justice.
  • AB 110 did not even require that voucher schools provide children with disabilities any special education or related services such as physical therapy or assistive technology.  Even the somewhat improved Senate version, SB 486, sponsored by Sen. Vukmir, though it required implementation of the child’s IEP, failed to require private schools to employ any special educators or therapists.
  • Parents who choose a special needs voucher give up all the rights they have under state and federal special education law, the most powerful education law in the nation.  Thus, if things go wrong in the voucher school, a parent’s only recourse is to return their child to the public school they were unhappy with initially.
  • The voucher program takes money out of public schools, hurting the remaining children with disabilities, and worse yet, does not provide sufficient funding to educate children with disabilities in private school.
  • AB 110 had no income cap, or tuition cap.  This means that millionaires could have their children educated in private schools at state expense, and low income families could not use the vouchers because tuition would likely be higher than the amount of the voucher.
  • These vouchers will likely result in private schools creaming the least disabled students who cost the last to educate, thereby segregating the most disabled students in public schools, who have been stripped of funding by this program, to properly educate them.
  • These programs guarantee that once a child takes one of these vouchers, that child can keep it until they graduate or turn 21.  This means that regardless of whether the child needs special education anymore, unlike the public school requirement which calls for reevaluation of that status every 3 years and generally removes 1/3 of such students from special education upon reevaluation, once in private school, these children will maintain disability status at public expense for the rest of their educational career.

Hopefully, disability groups will coalesce once again to block passage of a special needs voucher program in Wisconsin.  To do, however, they will need to work closely with moderate Senate Republicans, including Senators Olsen, Schultz and Cowles.  The American Federation for Children will come bearing gifts for Wisconsin legislators who vote to create this program, so the battle will be fierce.