Vouchers for special education will hasten money drain from public schools. | WisCommunity

Vouchers for special education will hasten money drain from public schools.

Perhaps the least-understood educational topic is special education. Special ed students make up such a small part of the student population they don’t seem worthy of much attention.

However, if Republicans and voucher proponents get their way and “voucherize” special education, public school districts could find themselves in a funding death spiral.

It costs about $12,000 to educate a k-12 student in Wisconsin. However, if that student has special needs that average cost per student (and the key word here is average) jumps to around $27,000 a year. (And bear with me for using rounded and averaged numbers.)

Special needs is a broad category. One student may have a reading disorder which may require only an hour a day with a reading specialist. Another student may be severely disabled and require a full-time aide, assigned to that student for the entire day. In some cases this may be portal-to-portal assistance requiring that aide to be on the bus with their charge to and from school. That aide may also undergo student-specific training to administer medications or deal with medical emergencies.

This requires a lot of infrastructure. Go into any school district and you will find a room with a fully-equipped kitchen, a washer and dryer and an oversized bathroom with a shower and even extra clothes, in the event of an incontinence event. If the district is split up among high school, middle school and elementary, multiply this facility times three, or more.

As a result, school districts receive additional state aid as well as federal aid for special education.  That aid total brings the aid per student to about $13,000 per special ed student compared to the average of about $7,000 for non-special ed students.

Because the aid falls far short of the total costs many smaller districts combine facilities to cash in on the economies of scale to minimize their outlay. In that case the host district would receive the aids.

Private schools can’t qualify for aids to serve this population because the law requires they must be able to serve any disabled student.

So the legislature is toying with the idea of providing vouchers at a still-to-be-determined amount, an amount higher than the current $6,700 voucher, to serve special needs students without the requirement to serve all takers.

It is easy to see what will happen. The private schools can turn this into a cash cow, cherry-picking the students with the reading disorder and leaving those with profound needs to the public schools.

The public school “loses” their aid and find their costs per student going through the roof.

Its as if the Republicans can’t kill off our public schools fast enough. This proposal, combined with an expansion of the vouchers, may be the last nail in the coffin.


January 7, 2015 - 3:16pm