Share This Article


Three New Laws Impact School Districts

By D|K’s School and Higher Education Law Team

Governor Scott Walker recently signed three education-related bills (below) that will impact Wisconsin school districts in a variety of ways. School districts should review and revise their policies, procedures and practices to ensure that they are consistent with the new laws.

A. Changes to Special Needs Scholarship Program

Act 289 amends and creates new provisions for Section 115.7915, Wis. Stats., which is the Special Needs Scholarship law, newly enacted in July 2016. Act 289 now allows a student to apply at any time during the school year for a scholarship under the Special Needs Scholarship Program and changes the selection of recipients from a random process to a rolling one. Additionally, the act repeals the requirement that a student be in the public school for the entire 2015-2016 school year to be eligible.

As outlined in Wisconsin Legislative Council Act Memo 289 dated April 12, 2016, the Act makes the following changes related to the Special Needs Scholarship Program:

  • Adds the Wisconsin Association of Christian Schools to the list of entities that may accredit a private school for purposes of the program.
  • Allows a student to apply at any time during the school year.
  • Provides that the parent or guardian of a child receiving a scholarship must make the child available for a reevaluation of the child’s IEP and services plan no more than once every three years.
  • Changes the selection of scholarship recipients from a random process to a rolling process, which generally requires a participating private school to accept applicants in the order in which their applications were received.
  • Repeals a requirement that a student attend a public school the entire 2015-16 school year to be eligible for the scholarship.
  • Allows the Department of Public Instruction to withhold payment from a school that violates program requirements.
  • Requires notice to parents of federal appeal rights to contest a determination by an IEP team that a student is no longer a child with a disability.
  • Removes a requirement that a private school providing records relating to its implementation of a student’s IEP or services plan to the student’s resident school board include an evaluation of the child’s progress.
  • Requires schools hosting Special Needs Scholarship students to follow all health and safety laws that apply to public schools.
  • Requires that an IEP or services plan be in effect for a student to be eligible for a scholarship, rather than that an IEP or plan have been completed.

The Act also allows the DPI to withhold payment from a school that violates program requirements and requires the schools hosting a Special Needs Scholarship student to follow all health and safety laws that apply to public schools.

The Act further requires that parents be notified of the federal appeal rights to contest a determination of ineligibility if the IEP team believes a student is no longer considered a child with a disability.

School districts are required to provide an annual notice to parents and guardians of students with disabilities about the Special Needs Scholarship Program. Given the changes under Act 289 to the Special Needs Scholarship Program, school districts should revise their annual notice to be consistent with the modifications to the law, and provide to parents and guardians. The notice can be provided by posting to the District website.

B. Department of Health Services Prohibited From Requiring Mental Health Client or Licensed Treatment Professional to Designate a School Site As a Clinic Office in Order to Provide Outpatient Mental Health Services at the School

Act 294, creates a new law for a “licensed treatment professional”, defined as a physician who has completed a residence in psychiatry; a psychologist or a private practice school psychologist, a marriage or family therapist, a professional counselor, an advanced practice social worker or an independent social worker, a clinical social worker, among others, as more fully defined in Act 294. This new law allows a licensed treatment professional to provide services in a school and receive reimbursement from the Medical Assistance program regardless of whether the specific school has been identified as a clinic office by the licensed treatment professional.

C. Adjustment of Sparsity Aid Eligibility

Act 305, amends Section 115.436, Wis. Stats. This amendment increases the pupil cap on school district membership for sparsity aid eligibility from 725 to 745 pupils.

The Wisconsin Legislative Council Act 305 Memo dated April 11, 2016 states, “2015 Wisconsin Act 305 allows school districts that qualified for sparsity aid in the previous year, but no longer qualify because they exceeded the 725 student limit this year, to receive any sparsity aid funds that are left over after qualifying districts receive sparsity aid. The Act also increases the student enrollment cap for receiving sparsity aid from 725 students to 745 students.”

Given the pace of new legislation, the attorneys at Davis & Kuelthau, s.c. are prepared to assist school district officials to implement the changes by assisting with the review of policies, procedures and implementation in local school districts, as well as answer questions school officials may have about compliance with the new laws.

If you have any questions, please contact your Davis & Kuelthau, s.c. attorney.