Nearly Half of Special Needs Students’ Applications Denied Open Enrollment in Public Schools

DPI Data Suggest that Special Needs Students are More Likely to Be Rejected from Open Enrollment than Regular Public School Students

May 7, 2013

[Madison, Wisc…] More than 42 percent of special needs students’ applications for open enrollment to a different public school had their transfers rejected. That was almost 11 percent higher than for non-special needs students’ applications in 2012-2013.

Legislators and groups that oppose the special needs voucher plan have often said that it is the private schools that will turn away students with special needs.

“They (private schools) get to take who they want, and they will not take disruptive kids (and) they will not take kids that are ‘expensive’ because of their special needs,” Sen. Tim Cullen (D-Janesville) said at a forum in Fort Atkinson in April.

However, many public school students had their open enrollment transfer requests rejected due to space and program limitations, leading to higher rates of open enrollment rejections in 2012-2013 than the state had seen in 2010 or 2011, according to Department of Public Instruction (DPI) data.

There were 5,525 applications for open enrollment transfers that came from special needs students. Of these, 2,327 – or 42.12 percent – were rejected. The bulk of these rejections were due to special needs limitations; 1,227 students (52.7% of students denied by the receiving district) were rejected because there was no space for them in their new schools. Another 188 (8.1%) were rejected because the school they chose did not have the ability to conform to their Individualized Education Plan (IEP). 984 more students (42.3%) were denied transfer because of space limitations that expanded beyond special education. These figures add up to more than 100 percent because some schools were able to claim more than one reason to reject an application.

This was greater than the denial rate for non-special needs pupils in the same year. There were 35,679 students that applied for open enrollment transfers and 11,261 of them, or 31.56 percent, were denied. Of these rejections, 10,667 (94.7%) were due to space concerns from the schools that would have received these extra students.

Reasons for Denial SPED NONSPED.jpg

DPI SPED Data Pull Quote.pngThe extra avenues for denial – specifically a school’s capacity for educating special needs children – seem to play a major role in this increase in transfer denials. However, DPI’s report also suggests that receiving schools are almost twice as likely to reject a special needs student for expulsion or truancy-based reasons than their non-special needs peers. Schools cited this reason as the motivating factor behind denying 4.73% of special needs students. The state’s non-special needs pupils were rejected as a result of truancy or expulsion in just 2.4% of 2012-2013’s applications.

Those in favor of the special needs vouchers believe that this data proves the need for educational choice for parents with special needs students.

“This data dispels the myth that all public schools accept all students,” said Brian Pleva, Wisconsin government affairs associate for the American Federation for Children. “Governor Walker’s special needs scholarship delivers more educational options to special needs parents–too many of whom are very familiar with an education establishment blocking their attempts at better opportunities for their children.”

While opponents argue that voucher schools will not accept students with special needs, the data from DPI shows that many struggling special needs students are currently being denied the opportunity to attend a different public school through open enrollment.

*This DPI data cover applications and not necessarily the number of students who used open enrollment to find a new classroom.