Release: ELC Research Is Clear: Wisconsin’s Shamefully Inadequate Special Education Funding Harms Students

Our press release on the brand new study on the underfunding of special education from the Education Law Center is below. View it as a PDF here.

Oct. 11, 2022

ELC Research Is Clear:
Wisconsin’s Shamefully Inadequate Special Education Funding Harms Students

For years, Wisconsin families, educators, advocates, and policy experts have shed light on the state’s special education reimbursement system. They have seen and articulated Wisconsin’s shameful practice of discriminating against students with disabilities by reimbursing less than 30% of local districts’ special education costs, and shown that the effects harm all students in all districts. They know that the state has a responsibility to do better by its young people.

The study published today by the Education Law Center proves it, showing that districts across the state cover some $1.25 billion in un-reimbursed special education costs, with the greatest gaps in high-poverty and majority-minority districts.

Underfunding special education is a slap in the face to our entire education system. For too long students with disabilities and their families have experienced the despair that results from being under-supported in the classroom, said Martha Siravo, a special education parent and co-founder of the Madtown Mommas and Disability Advocates. Special education students are general education students first — essentially, they are being faulted on twice. We need our legislatures to work together and give our public schools a chance to thrive. … I appreciate all the hard work advocates across the country have done to shine light on this; it’s high time we set priorities straight. Focus on the highest needs first, and all students will benefit.

Raising the state’s funding of special education is the right thing to do.  We need to ensure students with disabilities have an appropriate education.  That is a legal and ethical requirement.  Since the state has not adequately funded special education, local districts have had to make up the difference, and have taken the funds out of their general budgets. That shift in funds results in cuts to programs that serve all students. Having the state increase its share of the cost would help every child in every district in the state, said Dr. Julie Underwood, former Dean of the UW-Madison School of Education and President of the Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools.

Wisconsin’s funding discrimination against special education students in our public schools has been an embarrassment for decades, said Heather DuBois Bourenane, executive director of the Wisconsin Public Education Network. “We have heard from parents, educators, administrators, and advocates across the state who are frustrated and disgusted by the inadequacies in our current system, but the legislature has dragged its feet. It’s high time we match our funding priorities to the priority needs of our kids, and the next state budget provides us with an opportunity to finally provide adequate resources to students with disabilities so every child in every public school can thrive.

Advocates across Wisconsin urge the legislature and Governor Evers to heed this study’s policy recommendations, meet the constitutional obligation to Wisconsin’s students, and benefit every child in the state by ending the inadequate and discriminatory status quo.


Wisconsin Public Education Network is a nonpartisan grassroots coalition supporting strong public schools that provide equal opportunity for all students to thrive.The Network is a project of the Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools (WAES), a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Contributions may be made online or sent to: 1502 W. Broadway, Suite 102, Madison, WI 53713.

About the author: Christian Phelps

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