GREEN BAY - Some educators and parents have concerns with Governor Walker's plan to expand taxpayer support for private schools.
They're worried about how to provide for special needs students.
The proposal would provide funding to send special needs children to a different public, private or charter school.
It would include some accountability measures for private schools to remain in the program.
A similar proposal failed in the state legislature last session.
Supporters say it will give parents more flexibility in finding the right programs for their children.
"I like a lot about North," said Alex Larson, mentioning how he's made life-long friendships with his classmates at Appleton North High School.
His mother Mary Lynn says specialized programming has helped him overcome his learning disabilities.
"When my husband and I were first starting a family we thought we would send our kids to a private school, a parochial school. But having children with special needs and not having those services available, it's just not a feasible option," said Larson.
A provision in the state budget looks to help special needs families whose needs aren't being met by their area public schools. It would create a special needs scholarship, which would essentially be a voucher program.
Advocacy group the American Federation for Children says this increases choice.
"This proposal recognizes that parents of special needs students are the best individuals to choose what educational environments are best for their children," said
Special needs teachers, like Dean De Broux of Bay Lakes United Educators, say students who need the most help might fall through the cracks.
"We're very concerned that it will, one, be a drain on resources from public schools to private schools because the voucher schools will be able to pick and choose who they accept," said De Broux.
Area private schools say they don't turn away special needs students. However, the majority of teachers for those students right now come from the public schools, because the private schools don't have the specialized staff.
"We have approximately 60 students that have an individualized service plan where they receive a direct service from the public schools and that would continue," said James Cullen, the director of student services with Green Bay Area Catholic Education, or GRACE.
Specialists travel to most private catholic schools in Green Bay on a case-by-case basis. Notre Dame Academy has one full-time special needs teacher in the building.
Some parents like Larson say wider availability of programs isn't enough.
"Private schools don't have the same accountability," said Larson.
The bill says private schools would have to tell parents what services they offer before enrolling a child.
Folks on both sides say the child's opportunity, no matter their ability, matters most.
The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction says it's opposed to the special needs voucher proposal.
Local education associations say the details of just how much each voucher would cost per student is still being worked out.
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