Stay Updated About School Choice

Wisconsin State Assembly Passes Special Needs Scholarship Legislation

Posted on Wednesday March 14, 2012 | Wisconsin

Bipartisan plan, which would empower thousands of special needs students, now advances to Senate for consideration

Madison, WI (March 14, 2012)—The Wisconsin State Assembly late last night passed legislation that would create an expansive voucher program for children with special needs, which, if also passed in the Senate, would bring the first statewide, publicly funded private school choice program to Wisconsin’s special needs families.

The American Federation for Children—the nation’s voice for school choice—praised the legislation, which passed with bipartisan support, and called on State Senators to follow the lead of their Assembly colleagues and pass Assembly Bill 110.

AFC also commended Representatives Michelle Litjens (R), Jason Fields (D), Evan Wynn (R), and Senator Leah Vukmir (R), the four sponsors of the legislation who worked to make the program highly accountable for parents and participating schools. The Senate is expected to take up the measure soon as well.

“This scholarship is about providing families who have children with special needs with educational choice, because they know their children better than anyone else,” said Brian Pleva, the Wisconsin Government Affairs Associate for the American Federation for Children. “As we’ve seen in programs around the country, giving more options to parents can transform the lives of families and give students a real chance to succeed.”

Assembly Bill 110, which passed on a bipartisan vote of 55-39, would create a program allowing students with disabilities to receive scholarships of up to $13,400 to attend the school of their parents’ choice.

Last month, the Senate Committee on Education held a public hearing where more than 30 parents and children testified in support of the bill. Organizations from across the state, including School Choice Wisconsin, Hispanics for School Choice, and Democrats for Education Reform have also expressed their support for the legislation.

If enacted, the scholarship program would be the latest in a surge of school choice programs tailored for students with special needs.  There are currently 10 publicly funded  private school choice programs for children with special needs in eight states—Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Utah, with two programs in both Arizona and Ohio.  Special needs school choice programs serve nearly 30,000 students this school year.

Wisconsin is also home to the nation’s longest running private school choice program – the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program – and a recently enacted program in Racine.  These programs serve more than 23,000 students this school year.  A recent study showed that students enrolled in the Milwaukee voucher program are more likely to graduate from high school and attend college than their public school counterparts, boast improved reading scores, and are improving the results of traditional public school students.