OPINION: Helping Special Needs Students
Posted on Tuesday March 13, 2012 | Wisconsin
From The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:
We are parents of children with special needs. Our sons and daughters come in all shapes, sizes, ages, colors, abilities and disabilities. Parents of children with special needs do not fit any particular social or economic demographic. We are your neighbors in every city, town and village throughout rural and urban Wisconsin. Our common denominator is our unequivocal conviction and passion to protect and better our children on every level. We know one day we will not be here for them, so their future and quality of life are dependent on decisions we make today.
There are two critical bills before the Wisconsin Assembly and Senate this week that take an important step in allowing us to prepare our children for the future. Assembly Bill 110 and Senate Bill 486 create a public scholarship for special needs children, allowing parents to choose the right school for their children.
Currently, our children are pretty much limited to the schools in the districts in which we live. All public schools, and some private schools, have programs for special needs children with varying levels of success.
One common mantra in special needs education is inclusion, the amount of time children are included in the classroom with "regular" students. This interaction is important because being included on a social and academic level helps prepare our children for better integration and independence in the real world. The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction measures the inclusion rates of every school district, and within Milwaukee County you will find some districts with a roughly 30% inclusion rate and others with an almost 80% inclusion rate.
The legislation would allow us to move our children from one school district to another if we felt it would be better for them academically. It also would allow us to enroll our children in private schools if we felt the schools were better equipped for their needs. To finance the scholarship, the state and local school districts would simply reimburse the school or school district for what is the statewide average cost to educate our children. Some school districts would save money since special needs children are expensive to educate.
We and our children will not receive any financial gain from these proposals, nor are we seeking any special entitlement. Also, no school districts or schools will realize any financial gain from these proposals. We are simply asking that the dollars currently being spent be done so in the most productive way, and the school that best meets our child's needs receives the tax dollars we have contributed to the pool even if that school isn't in our district of residence.
The opponents argue we have the option of using open enrollment to move our children to another school district. Unfortunately, over 40% of special needs children who apply for open enrollment are denied the opportunity. When it comes to our children, discrimination and segregation still exists. They are simply too expensive.