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WI State Rep: 'I can tell you this: [Autism] is not going away'

Nov 22, 2021, PBS Wisconsin: A chasm between Wisconsin's special-ed needs and resources

The amount of funding from the state for special education only covers a limited portion of the cost incurred by school districts, which are left to fill the gap — Lakeland STAR Academy, a charter school in Minocqua that teaches students on the autism spectrum, is able to operate with generous local philanthropic support, but its model is difficult to replicate. Lakeland STAR Academy is not your typical school. For starters, it's technically two charter schools, and part of the Lakeland Union High School in Minocqua. From its inception, Lakeland STAR was designed to serve middle and high school students with sensory needs, primarily students with a diagnosis on the autism spectrum…. Lakeland STAR was created in 2017 because local parents did not like the services available for their children in the traditional public school setting. It's modeled off a school in Minnesota called Lionsgate Academy — Mikoleit remembers his feeling during his first visit…. As a Wisconsin charter school, money follows the STAR Academy students over from the high school, but that isn't enough to pay for the staffing they need. "We have a full-time speech and language, we have a full-time occupational therapist. We have full-time [board-certified behavior analyst], which is unheard of in traditional public schools here in the state of Wisconsin," Mikoleit explained. So the parents started fundraising. The local Howard Young Foundation came on board, then they held a golf tournament. "When we had our first golf outing four years ago and we raised about $400,000, no one knew what to expect," said Mikoleit. "If we raised a dollar great, if we raised $400,000, you got to be kidding me. Then the second year was almost double, then the third year we had covid, This past year was close to $1.3 million." It's a stunning amount of money for a school with 38 students. "I've never been in a community that have supported it the way they do," he said…. Students who can't get into STAR Academy go across the parking lot to Lakeland Union High School, where the majority of kids in the district with special education needs are taught. "There's no shortage of need, said Rebecca Jablonski, director of special education at Lakeland Union…. Her budget for 118 students is half that of STAR Academy. Jablonski is happy for STAR's fundraising and what it means for those kids, but it's also frustrating. "It doesn't frustrate me because we don't have it available," she said. "It frustrates me because I can't offer it to all the students." But why not? "In comparison to the amount of services that special ed kids need, the amount of money that's funded is very low," said Jablonski. The problem is the state knowingly underfunds special education, but schools are required by law to provide the services, so they have to take money from general education or shortchange special ed. "We've intentionally set this system up, said Jeff Spitzer-Resnick, a civil rights lawyer who has sued multiple school districts on behalf of special education students in order to force schools to provide the services they need. "I hope I'm helping to change the system," said Spitzer-Resnick, who is also advocacy chair for the Autism Society of South Central Wisconsin. "Sometimes it's one step at a time. Sometimes it's bigger picture." Spitzer-Resnick explained how the state funds special education, with each school submitting their estimated costs to the state, and then the available money is split proportionately…. Spitzer-Resnick said that 28% reimbursement level is the lowest in the nation for states that use this method. The federal government also shortchanges what it has promised for special education, contributing another 24%. That adds up to 52% of the costs being covered, leaving the rest for each school district to figure out on their own. "The Legislature sooner or later, unless it's all going to crumble, needs to accept their responsibility to provide appropriate education for all our children," said Spitzer-Resnick. Funding levels are a budget decision. Republicans in the state Legislature have kept special education reimbursement to around 28% for the last decade. In the 2020-21 school year, districts estimated $1.6 billion in services needed — the state provided just $450 million. Democratic Gov. Tony Evers proposed a massive increase in special education spending in his last budget. His plan would have increased state funding by $709 million over the next two years, bringing reimbursement levels to 50%. Instead, Republicans added $85 million in the budget they passed, which will bring reimbursement levels to 30%. "I think overall it was a pretty darn good budget, said state Rep. Rob Swearingen, R-Rhinelander, who is Lakeland STAR's biggest champion in the legislature. "I'm not an expert on autism," he said. "I can tell you this: It's not going away. And the state better start addressing it more than what they're doing now." In the last two budgets, Swearingen has been able to get his colleagues to insert funding specifically for Lakeland STAR. Evers has vetoed that funding each time, saying he doesn't want to pick winners and losers by targeting individual schools. "It was a personal gut punch to me from Governor Evers when he when he vetoed it a second time and he claims winners and losers," Swearingen said. Swearingen suggested other districts should look to copy Lakeland STAR… "When they start to siphon off money from already shortchanged public schools, that's a problematic public policy decision," said Spitzer Resnick. He said even charter schools that are part of their larger district double up overhead costs and take away from the other students…. "I want to be clear, it doesn't mean that's a bad school, doesn't mean those kids aren't getting a good education. And it doesn't mean that the parents and educators who formed it did it with ill intent," said Spitzer-Resnick about Lakeland STAR. "They saw a sick system, an unhealthy system, and they're doing what they can to address it. But that's not a systemic fix." Whether or not Lakeland STAR Academy can be replicated, the larger question is whether their success with students should be considered exceptional or the baseline for what special education students deserve. "Where's the benchmark? Where does it start? Where is the ceiling? Is this a high benchmark?" asked Swearingen. There are more than 13,000 students diagnosed on the autism spectrum in Wisconsin, and Lakeland STAR Academy is teaching less than 40 of them….

1 Comment

fei fei
fei fei
Dec 02, 2021

Sheeple tell us “we love the USA” but the gruesome facts are here to stay:

CIA hypnosis and experiments:

USA and Canada Genocide against Native Americans (forced religion, colonialism, theocracy):

USA Military is NOT Run by Heroes:

Terrorists Behind 9/11 Might Have Been Trained by U.S. Military:

U.S. Chemtrails Akin to Imperial Japanese ”Flea Jets” against Manchurians:

You think the U.S.A. will magically save us from their best friend?

At loss for words:

The Evils of Imperial Japan and the USA:

Anyone who still loves the U.S.A./thinks native genocide “stopped long ago” is delusional and insane.

The Extermination of Native Languages via Colonialism:

You think it’s all over?…

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