December 2, 2015                                                                                                                                                                                                                  

Statement from Senator Chris Larson on Special Education Day

MADISON --The following is a statement from State Senator Chris Larson on the 40th anniversary of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) being signed into law by President Ford.

“Every student deserves a top-notch education, regardless of ability. IDEA was an important step towards ensuring students with disabilities received fair access to education. Unfortunately, public education in Wisconsin has been intentionally under-funded over the last several years. For students with disabilities, the trend has been no different. 

“For instance, Republicans included the creation of a special needs voucher in the 2015-17 state budget. Advocacy organizations that represent individuals with disabilities and their families have spoken out against these vouchers, expressing the real fear that schools will cherry-pick students with the less severe disabilities, meaning that under-funded public schools will be left with students with the most complex needs. Further, students in voucher schools are not guaranteed the same protections as those in public schools.

“While, Republicans were quick to create the special needs voucher in the most-recent state budget, they failed at providing our traditional schools with the resources they need to educate students with special needs. That's why Rep. Barnes and I introduced the Special Education Restoration Act (Senate Bill 216) this session. This bill increases reimbursement rates to school districts and restores them to a modest 33%. In 1980, school districts were reimbursed at 66.1%, and at 34.3% for the 1999-2000 school year.

“Rep. Barnes and I also introduced the Student Equal Opportunity Act (Senate Bill 78). This legislation would strengthen rights for students with disabilities in voucher schools, as well as make sure they have teachers who are licensed and properly trained to educate children with special needs. 

“Allegations of discrimination and mistreatment of students with disabilities in voucher schools is extremely alarming and has been happening for years, but thanks in part to Congressman Mark Pocan and other advocates, voucher schools are being investigated by the U.S. Department of Justice. Passing our bill will be a great leap forward in ensuring all of our children receive the quality education they have a right to under our state's Constitution. We must put an end to the cycle of discrimination and mistreatment of special needs students in voucher schools.

“Over the past 40 years, we have advanced our expectations of all students. Our classrooms have become more inclusive and educational outcomes have improved. While this remarkable progress has been made, we must continue the hard work and address the challenges that still exist. Although we are able to help many individual students to achieve their goals, we must strive to ensure that all children have the support they need and find ways to meet each student’s needs, regardless of what school they attend. In Wisconsin, this starts with moving Senate Bill 78 and Senate Bill 216 forward.”

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