WILL & SCW Report Shows How Choice Programs Serve Students with Disabilities

Report’s analysis and findings dispute unfounded narrative from Left-Wing information blog, Wisconsin Watch

The News: The Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL) and School Choice Wisconsin (SCW) released a new report examining amount of special needs students in Wisconsin’s choice schools serve students with disabilities. Serving All: Students with Disabilities in Wisconsin’s Parental Choice Programs shows that schools in Wisconsin choice programs serve far more disabled students than previously reported by Left-wing blogs, media outlets, and even the Department of Public Instruction (DPI).

Our findings match a non-partisan five-year evaluation of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program conducted in 2012 by the John Witte (University of Wisconsin) and Patrick Wolf (University of Arkansas).


The Quotes: Will Flanders, PhD, WILL Research Director, said, “As public support and enrollment in choice schools grows across Wisconsin, so do efforts to discredit and destroy the program. In response to desperate and outrageous reports disparaging the ways choice schools serve Wisconsin students, WILL and SCW are providing the facts.”

Nic Kelly, President of School Choice Wisconsin, added, “This report puts to bed one of the many lies opponents of parental choice use to slander Wisconsin’s programs as discriminatory. Choice schools work with parents to create a positive learning environment for students — and often do so without extra funding public schools have access to.”


Why It Matters: Opponents of Wisconsin’s school choice programs long have alleged that participating schools serve far fewer students with disabilities than public schools. In fact, the Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC) stated in a press release last week, “voucher schools are often not obliged to meet fundamental educational benchmarks and often lack comprehensive provisions for students with disabilities.”

So called “media outlets” like Wisconsin Examiner and Wisconsin Watch have made numerous attacks against the programs. Wisconsin Watch earlier this year claimed—without specific evidence—that choice schools expel students because of disabilities. Our report’s findings notably refute these claims.

Other Findings:  

  • Current identification requirements guarantee undercounting. Only students who have received services in a public school previously or who have a service plan being implemented by a public school are counted as having a disability. This means that even many students in the Special Needs Scholarship Program are not counted as having a disability.
  • More than 10% of students in choice schools likely have a disability, a finding consistent with a respected academic study conducted in 2012. This is five times greater than the figure that DPI reports. The agency’s apples-to-oranges protocol is guaranteed to understate disability enrollment in private schools.
  • Private schools in the choice programs may not deny admission based on disability status. As is the case in many public schools, schools in the choice programs are not equipped to serve all students with disabilities. Ultimately, the decision on whether a choice program school can meet a student’s needs is up to the parents after consultation with the school.
  • In contrast, disability discrimination is widespread in Wisconsin’s public school open enrollment program. Under the program, Wisconsin statutes explicitly let school districts disallow admission due to disability status (along with other exclusionary provisions). More than 1,400 students were denied for this reason in the 2021-22 school year.

Dig Deeper:

Will Flanders, PHD

Will Flanders, PHD

Research Director

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