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Wisconsin – Special Needs Scholarship Program

Wisconsin – Special Needs Scholarship Program

Wisconsin’s Special Needs Scholarship Program, enacted in 2015, is the state’s fourth school voucher program. This program became available for families to use in the 2016–17 school year. Learn more about the program’s details, including eligibility, funding, regulations, and more, on this page.


Program Fast Facts

  • One of 17 private school choice programs exclusively for students with special needs nationwide

  • 206 participating students (2016–17)

  • 13 percent of students eligible statewide

  • Voucher value: $12,000 (2016–17)

  • Value as a percentage of public school per-student spending: 107 percent

Program Details

Percent of Wisconsin students eligible for the Special Needs Voucher program

Click the + symbols to learn more about this program’s details.

Wisconsin began providing vouchers designated specifically for students with disabilities to attend private school in the 2016–17 school year.

Student Funding

For 2016–17, the voucher amount is $12,000. Beginning in 2017–18, voucher payments increase by the dollar amount equal to the dollar amount increase in general school aid to Wisconsin public schools.

Student Eligibility

Participating students must have an active Individualized Education Plan (IEP) and must have been enrolled in a Wisconsin public school for at least the entire prior school year. In the same school year, eligible students must also have applied to attend a public school in one or more nonresident school districts under Wisconsin’s open enrollment program and been rejected by the respective school boards or have otherwise been prohibited from attending those district schools. Students may continue participating in the program as long as they have an IEP and attend an eligible school until they turn 21 or graduate high school, whichever comes first.

EdChoice Expert Feedback

Vouchers designed specifically for children with special needs have proven to be very beneficial for the children they serve. Wisconsin’s new program has a generous funding level, although consideration should be given to increasing funding for those whose needs demand greater expenditures. However, the first step to ensure the success of this voucher is to remove the requirement that a child must first be rejected by one or more public schools before being allowed to access a voucher to attend the school of the parent and child’s choice. Children with special needs face enough challenges in their lives. This program is designed to give new freedom to parents and children to choose whatever educational opportunity will best serve their needs, and so, it should remove, not create, obstacles that stand between those families and their freedom of choice.

Rules and Regulations

  • Income Limit: None
  • Prior Year Public School Requirement: Yes
  • Geographic Limit: Statewide
  • Enrollment Cap: None
  • Voucher Cap: $12,000
  • Testing Mandates: State Civics Exam for high school graduation unless IEP exempts student from participation
  • *Limited to students with special needs


School Requirements:

  • Meet state and federal nondiscrimination policies
  • Provide each applicant under the program with a profile of the school’s special education program. That must include the methods of instruction the school will use to provide special education and related services to the student and the qualifications of the teachers and other persons who will be providing special education and related services to the student.
  • Implement the student’s most recent IEP or services plan, as modified by agreement between the school and the student’s parent, and related services agreed to by the school and the student’s parent that are not included in the IEP or services plan
  • Obtain verification that an applying student with a disability has an IEP or services plan in effect before intending to accept the application of the student
  • Provide a record of the implementation of the student’s IEP or services plan, including an evaluation of the student’s progress, to the school board of the school district in which the student resides upon request
  • Regularly report to the student’s parent on the student’s progress
  • Annually submit to the state a financial audit conducted by a certified public accountant
  • Provide the state evidence of sound fiscal practices and financial viability
  • School administrators must undergo financial training and have a least a teaching license or a bachelor’s degree from a nationally or regionally accredited institution of higher education
  • Teachers must have a teaching license or a bachelor’s degree from a nationally or regionally accredited institution of higher education, and teacher aides must have received a high school diploma or been granted a GED or HSED
  • Provide 1,050 hours of direct pupil instruction in grades 1–6 and 1,137 hours of direct pupil instruction in grades 7–12
  • Provide the department of public instruction with information about the academic program at the participating school and student test score data
  • Meet all health and safety codes

Governing Statutes

Legal History

No legal challenges have been filed against the program.

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