January 4, 2016
Statement from Senator Chris Larson on Closing of Federal Investigation into Private Voucher schools
MADISON --The following is a statement from State Senator Chris Larson on the closing of an investigation into discrimination of children with disabilities by the U.S. Department of Justice.
“Allegations of discrimination towards students with disabilities in private voucher schools are extremely alarming and led to an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). In one case, voucher school administrators tried to talk a mother out of enrolling her child – who needed speech and language services – into the school.
“In 2013, the DOJ requested the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) boost oversight on voucher schools in order to better determine the level of wrongdoing occurring within the taxpayer-subsidized voucher program. Unfortunately, due to the lack of accountability within the program, these schools were not obligated to provide much of the data needed to fully investigate claims of discrimination. While I am disappointed that the DOJ has closed their investigation, we are not out of the woods yet as the over four-year study unveiled many systematic problems within the voucher program – particularly in the areas of oversight and accountability – including making it clear we need to ensure DPI has adequate authority to obtain the data necessary to evaluate the treatment of students with disabilities within all schools receiving public resources.
“When legislative Republicans hastily created the special needs voucher program in the last state budget they failed at providing our traditional schools with the resources they need to educate students with special needs. The budget provision also does nothing to prevent private schools from cherry-picking students with the less severe disabilities, meaning that under-funded public schools will be left with students with the most complex needs.
“For these reasons, I introduced the Special Education Restoration Act (Senate Bill 216) this session, which increases reimbursement rates to school districts and restores them to a modest 33%, the Student Equal Opportunity Act (Senate Bill 78), which 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, and Senate Bill 3, which would apply many of the same standards of accountability and transparency we expect of public schools to voucher schools as well.
“Accountability and oversight are like a fire alarm, it will tell you when you have a problem – it exposes the problem – but it does not fix the problem. Passing these bills 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.”
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