Two new bills recently introduced by Senator Jennifer Shilling (D-La Crosse) would strengthen Wisconsin schools and provide better learning opportunities for students with special needs. Shilling represents the 32nd Distrcit, which includes Vernon County and parts of Monroe County. Senate Bill 554 is a bipartisan proposal that would strengthen accountability standards at taxpayer funded private voucher schools. Under this bill, private voucher schools who accept taxpayer funding to educate students with special needs would need to employ licensed special education teachers or therapists. These schools would also be required to comply with Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act in order to ensure student access and prevent discrimination. Voucher schools are not currently required to meet either of these standards. “No school that accepts state taxpayer funding should be allowed to deny services to students with special needs,” said Shilling. “In order to improve accountability, we need to make sure that private voucher schools that accept taxpayer funding to educate students with disabilities have the appropriate staff to provide special education services.” In addition to this proposal, Shilling also introduced Senate Bill 559 to increase the state reimbursement level for special education aid to 30% and increase funding for high-cost special education programs. These changes were supported by the Survival Coalition of Wisconsin Disability Organizations during the 2013-15 State Budget process. “Failing to provide adequate state support for special education programs has taken away resources from other school programs and shifted additional costs onto local property taxpayers,” said Shilling. “We should commit to investing in special education to keep up with rising costs and ensure that students with disabilities can achieve in classrooms alongside their peers. If we are serious about supporting quality educational opportunities for all students in Wisconsin, then it’s time to support an increase in the state reimbursement for special education costs.” Senate Bill 554 and Senate Bill 559 have been referred to the Senate Committee on Education where they are waiting to be scheduled for a public hearing. Individuals who would like more information regarding these proposals can visit the Legislature’s website at www.legis.wi.gov or contact Sen. Shilling’s office by email at Sen.Shilling@legis.wi.gov or by phone at 608-266-5490.

 

Contributed by Tony Palese