According to the results of a Wisconsin Policy Research Institute study, private schools around the state are eager to step into the gap created by the lack of educational opportunities for the disabled. However, they are stymied from doing so by the state funding system that doesn't provide sufficient funding needed to accommodate their special needs.
Mike Nichols – a WPRI senior fellow – said that he was glad to put to rest the myth that private schools in the state were avoiding enrolling special needs students. He said that the enrollment numbers for such schools were even higher than official estimates, and more students would be welcome if the funding formulas were amended. He added that it is the system that is aligned against providing the best opportunities for special-needs children, not the schools.
Approximately 14% of public school students in Wisconsin have a disability, according to official Department of Public Instruction data. Less than 2% of students in private schools have a disability, in the meantime, according to the same source. An extensive survey of private schools in the state by WPRI, however, determined that the percentage in private schools is actually closer to 6% — although many of those students are not formally recognized as having a disability and receive little or no public help or assistance.
Nichols pointed out that it was the students who were paying the price of this unfair approach by being locked out of academic environments that might do them the most good. He said that by sticking with the formula, the state was sabotaging the children that needed help the most.
According to Nichols, although disabled children who are enrolled in private schools are entitled to funding from several state and federal sources, in reality, such requests are frequently turned down. According to the administrators of 245 private schools polled for the study, even when the money is made available, it doesn't come close to covering the real expense of educating disabled children.
At the moment, the determination of whether a child is entitled to disability funding is made by local public schools, even when the child is enrolled in a private institution.
In some districts, that works well, the study found. But private school officials indicate that their public school counterparts do not always conduct the "child find" process in a timely manner, and children with disabilities in private schools do not always get the resources that would help them reach their potential. There is at least the appearance of an inherent conflict of interest because resources that go to private school children with disabilities are subtracted from resources otherwise available to the public school districts.