DPI: 28 Private Schools Apply to Participate in Special Needs Vouchers

The 2015-17 state budget (2015 Wisconsin Act 55) created the Special Needs Scholarship Program, which will begin in the 2016-17 school year. This program provides vouchers for students with a disability to attend a qualifying private school provided the student has applied for open enrollment into one or more public school districts other than their resident school district and has been denied by all non-resident districts to which he or she applied.

The deadline for private schools to register with the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) to participate in the special needs voucher program in the 2016-17 school year was June 1, 2016. Today, the DPI released the list of 28 schools that applied to participate in the program, along with each school’s special education profile.

To qualify for a scholarship/voucher, the student must have an individualized education program or services plan in effect and must have an been enrolled in a public school in Wisconsin for the entire school year immediately preceding the year in which they first receive a scholarship/voucher.

Private schools participating in the Special Needs Scholarship Program will receive a  $12,000 state voucher payment  for each eligible student with a disability (regardless of the nature of the disability or the cost of implementing the student’s IEP) on behalf of the student’s parent or guardian.

State aid equal to the amount of the voucher ($12,000) will be deducted from the school district in which the participating special needs voucher student resides. Although the resident district may not backfill its levy for this lost aid, students with a disability who receive a special needs voucher will be counted for both revenue limit purposes and state aid purposes in the district in which they reside. However, this means a one-year delay for state aids membership to generate any additional aid, while it will take three years for the student to be fully phased-in for revenue limit purposes.

Student registration for the Special Needs Scholarship Program (a/k/a special needs vouchers) starts Friday (July 1, 2016) for the 2016-17 school year.

The DPI estimates that roughly 400 students with a disability will apply for special needs scholarships.  If so, public school districts statewide would lose $5 million in state aid to  pay the cost of these scholarships.

The DPI has created a document explaining how both existing and newly created parental choice options will be funded in 2016-17.  These options include open enrollment, private school vouchers for both regular and special education, and independent charter schools.