JFC Approves Special Needs Voucher Expansion

The state’s budget-writing Joint Finance Committee voted along party lines 12-4 on a GOP motion to expand the Special Needs Scholarship Program (SNSP) as part of the state budget bill.  This program provides vouchers to enable students with disabilities to attend participating private schools with no income eligibility  limits.  Governor Walker did not propose expanding the program in his budget proposal.   The following proposals adopted today (Sept. 6), and described below, are estimated to expand special needs voucher program participation by 250 pupils in 2018-19 and result in an over $3 million aid reduction to public school districts in 2018-19:

Eliminate Prior Year Open Enrollment Requirement–repeals the current law requirement that for a pupil with special needs to be eligible to participate in the SNSP, the pupil must have applied to attend a non-resident public school district under the open enrollment program and have been denied.  This change would first apply to applications to participate in the program in 2018-19.  It is estimated that the change could increase the number of pupils participating in the program by 50 pupils in 2018-19. As a result, it is estimated that voucher payments under the program would increase by $621,400 in 2018-19, which would be offset by a corresponding aid reduction to those pupils’ public school districts of residence and a revenue limit adjustment equal to the aid reduction.

Eliminate Prior Year Public School Enrollment Requirement–repeals the current law requirement that for a pupil to be eligible to participate in the SNSP, the pupil must have been enrolled in a public school in Wisconsin for the entire school year immediately preceding the school year for which the pupil is applying for the program. This change would first apply to applications to participate in the program in 2018-19. It is estimated that the change could increase the number of pupils participating in the program by 200 pupils in 2018-19. As a result, it is estimated that payments under the program would increase by $2,485,400 ($2.485 million), which would be offset by a corresponding aid reduction to those pupils’ public school districts of residence and a revenue limit adjustment equal to the aid reduction.

SNSP Payment–In the first year of a pupil’s participation in the program, the payment amount would be equal to the payment amount under current law (currently about $12,000).

Specify that in the second year  and any future years, the payment would be the greater of the following:

  • the payment amount under current law (currently about $12,000); or
  • the actual costs incurred by the private school in the prior year to implement the child’s most recent IEP or services plan, as modified by agreement between the private school and the child’s parent, and related services agreed to by the private school and the child’s parent that are not included in the IEP or services plan, if these costs are documented and submitted to DPI.

A private school would have the option to submit a financial statement showing actual costs incurred to provide services but would not be required to do so. If submitted, DPI must provide the statement to the resident public school district.

The costs of voucher payments up to 150%  of the per pupil payment in the current year would be funded through a reduction in general aid to each special needs voucher pupil’s public school district of residence, offset for the district with an equal revenue limit adjustment.  If the cost exceeds 150% of the per pupil amount, the private school would be reimbursed with state tax dollars for 90% of the costs above that amount .

Summer School Payment–Require DPI to provide summer school payments to a private school participating in the SNSP for a child who attends summer school and who participated in the SNSP in the immediately preceding school term. Specify that if a pupil attended summer school for at least 15 days, the payment would be equal to 5% of the per pupil payment made for the child in the previous school year. If the pupil attended for less than 15 days, the payment would be equal to 5% of the scholarship amount in the previous school year multiplied by the number of days the pupil received summer instruction divided by 15.