Special Needs Scholarship Program
- Enacted 2015
- Launched 2016
Wisconsin’s Special Needs Scholarship Program provides vouchers designated specifically for students with disabilities to attend private school. Learn more about the program’s details, including eligibility, funding, regulations and more, on this page.
We do not administer this program.
Participating Students (Fall 2021)
Participating Schools (Fall 2021)
of Students Eligible Statewide
Average Voucher Value (2020–21)
Value as a Percentage of Public School Per-student Spending
Wisconsin’s Special Needs Scholarship Program Participation
For 2021–22, the maximum voucher amount is $13,013. Annually, voucher payments increase by the dollar amount equal to the dollar amount increase in general school aid to Wisconsin public schools.
Participating students must have an active Individualized Education Plan (IEP). 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
Wisconsin’s voucher for students with disabilities helps thousands of students access schools that are the right fit for them, but policymakers could do more to expand educational opportunity.
Eligibility for the scholarships is limited to students with special needs who have IEPs. About one in eight Wisconsin students are eligible to receive a scholarship. Statewide, less than 5 percent of students participate in one of Wisconsin’s private educational choice options (including the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, the Racine Parental Choice Program, the Statewide Parental Choice Program, and the K-12 Private School Tuition Deduction). This is the third highest EdChoice share in the nation.
The average scholarship size is about $12,851, which is 102 percent of the average expenditure per student at Wisconsin’s district schools.
In order to expand access to educational choice, Wisconsin policymakers should dramatically expand eligibility to all students. The program could also be converted into an education savings account to ensure that all students have access to the education that’s the right fit for them, whether private school or a customized course of education.
Wisconsin’s voucher program for students with special needs has some unnecessary and counterproductive regulations. For example, the program requires voucher students in certain grades to take the state’s standardized test. Instead of mandating a single test, policymakers should allow parents and schools to choose from a variety of nationally norm-referenced tests.
Rules and Regulations
- Income Limit: None
- Prior Year Public School Requirement: Yes
- Geographic Limit: Statewide
- Enrollment Cap: None
- Voucher Cap: $13,013
- Testing Mandates: State Civics Exam for high school graduation, unless IEP exempts student from participation
- *Limited to students with special needs
- 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
- Administer background checks for all employees
- Provide a record upon request 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
- 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 at 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
No legal challenges have been filed against the program.
Special Needs Scholarship Program State Groups
That Support School Choice
School Choice Wisconsin is an organization that works to empower parents by developing, supporting and promoting the ideas and policies that create vibrant, quality options in K–12 education in Wisconsin.