Takeaways from the brief include:
1. Wisconsin has over 116,000 children that have been diagnosed with some sort of disability. School districts with high rates of poverty tend to have high rates of disabled students. The one-sized-fits-all model of the public schools serves some parents well but not all.
2. Wisconsin ranks 19th among all fifty states and the District of Columbia on test scores for special needs children.
3. Demand for choice exists. Since 2012, on average, about 5,780 special needs students apply for the Open Enrollment Program to attend a public school outside of where they live.
4. Wisconsin’s Special Needs Scholarship Program (SNSP), passed in 2015, gives special needs children the chance to attend a private school of their choosing. But, given all the regulations and hoops parents must jump through, it lags far behind other states like Florida and Ohio in number of children who are eligible.
The brief calls on Wisconsin policymakers to reform the SNSP by: 1) eliminating the requirement that a child must apply for open enrollment, 2) eliminating the requirement that a child attend a public school the year prior, and 3) increase funding for the SNSP so that it better reflects the cost to educate children with disabilities.