ACLU Sues Over Wisconsin Voucher Program

Today’s conservative movement can’t find a government service they wouldn’t want to privatize, and top among those prizes is public education.  This includes not only slashing funding for public secondary and post-secondary institutions, but funneling students into private schools using public dollars in the form of vouchers.

Proponents of the voucher system insist they provide families the greatest degree of flexibility and choice and prevent families from being “trapped” in failing school districts.  Those who oppose voucher programs say that those dollars could be used to remedy problems in troubled schools.

But like it or not, privatization of public education is here, so the next step is to make sure those private institutions benefiting from public dollars abide by the same rules and provide the same access to all students, not just a select few.  This is particularly true for students with special needs who have historically been squeezed out or isolated from access to educational services and opportunities.

That’s the case in Wisconsin’s largest public school district according to the American Civil Liberties Union who has called on the Department of Justice to investigate the systematic discrimination against and exclusion of students with disabilities in Wisconsin’s school voucher program.

The state is poised to significantly expand this program, despite complaints that the program sanctions the exclusion and segregation of students with disabilities.  In the Milwaukee Public School District there are approximately 81,000 students, including approximately 16,000 students with disabilities.  Those schools and those students share dollars with the voucher program — a program that serves an almost exclusively non-disabled population. 

According to attorneys with the ACLU of Wisconsin, approximately 1.6 percent of voucher students have disabilities, while 19.5 percent of Milwaukee Public School students do.  With only one set of resources for both, it is easy to predict what will happen to those students who remain in the Milwaukee Public School system.

Furthermore, by treating the voucher schools as private schools rather than public (despite giving these schools public dollars), the state has in effect refused to hold those schools accountable to non-discrimination standards mandated in public schools.  That has left open the opportunity for those schools to discriminate against students with disabilities by refusing them admission or accommodation.

Public education evolved in part because of a growing social need to provide access to opportunity for all our children, regardless of race, gender or ability.  It is the promise one generation offers to the next: That opportunity will not be dictated by the fluke of being born into privilege or not.  But that is a promise that we are apparently no longer willing to make, or at least one we no longer intend to honor.  And that might just be the greatest tragedy to come out of the modern conservative movement.


photo courtesy of CCAC North Library via Flickr


Lika S.
Lika P6 years ago

The ACLU should stay out of it. They have, in the past, protected pedophile websites as free speech also. I want to know what they have a problem with keeping children safe.

On the other hand, the republicans don't seem to get that all they have to do is lift the cap on the virtual schools here in this fine state of Wisconsin. These are actually BETTER than private schools because they accommodate the special needs kids, and what have you... and encourages the parents to be involved because you're the educational coach...

If you ask me, the voucher program would end up allowing the private schools to dictate to parents what ideology, values, etc to be enforced at home, because they have to have a certain standard to keep up with, or they lose tuition from paying families...

I really think that the private schools shouldn't be forced or coerced into accepting them either... It's a form of competition and free market, and forcing that won't help the situation, it will only ruin both public and private schools.

Stop the war, fund education. Then we can stop worrying.

Charles Temm JR
Charles Temm JR6 years ago

Laughable...bitterly so that in a nation that continues to pour hundreds of billions into a system that puts students AFTER the teachers, that attempts to allow desperate parents a method of control over the quality of their kids education can always find the ACLU ready to toss a lawsuit into the mix.

Our government education system does NOT work. There are exceptions but the consensus outside of the arm of the Dem party teachers unions is we are destroying our kids future with a slipshod, top heavy education system.

Vouchers allow choice. It is odd that Dems who claim to stand for choice for women-- almost as a bloc, refuse to extend that same belief to children or their parents. How is forcing children to stay in failing, dangerous schools any different than forcing women to not have abortions? Is it because union members are more important than children or is simply Dems are VERY selective about what choice means nad by extension freedom itself?

Carlene V.
Carlene V6 years ago

We live in California and do not want our tax dollars going to voucher schools. The problem here is not the teachers or unions, it's that the school districts are hugely overweighted with administrators with their paid for cars, and huge salaries. They are trying to turn our local high school into a voucher school and I will vote against it. If people want their kids going to a private school they can darn well figure out how to pay for it and not use my hard earned tax dollars to do so.

WI is turning into a daily news forum and none of it is good news, they just keep hacking away at the middle class. Hey Walker, where are all those jobs you spoke of? Walker and the rest of his administration are bottom feeders at best and I hope they all get recalled. It is time for the American people to take to the streets and take our country back from these evil corporate whores.

Tom Y.
Tom Y6 years ago

The voucher program opens up a competitive element in education, and is it ever needed! Putting academic excellence over politically correct dogma and beyond the reach of the NEA is the only direction for the survival of education. This gives parents a crucial new role to play. They want the best education for their kids, so the money will follow them to the educators who best meet their expectations. That'll cut a lot of frills, and help shut the door on a lot of social activism. Yes. Proceed!

K s Goh
KS Goh6 years ago

Thanks for the article.

Marianne C.
Marianne C6 years ago

Trust nothing that happens here in Wisconsin as long as Walker and the Fitzgerald brothers are in office. The designation "Fitzwalkerstan" is closer to the truth than you can know unless you live here. The recall elections can't come soon enough.

Lynn C.
Lynn C6 years ago

Support the UCLA. They're working in our best interests, versus what our 'elected' representatives do.

James D.
James D6 years ago

How about we refrain from funding anymore wars against nations and populations that have not harmed us in any way and instead use those Trillions of dollars to make sure that every school in this country is the Very Best It Can Be?

Vote Progressive!

Jeanne M.
Jeanne M6 years ago

Gutting the public school system is the answer - you can't have places where independent thinking might occur! That way lies free-thinking, speculation, querying and skepticism, and other dangerous trends like democracy.

lyn L.
l L6 years ago

Just thin we would not be having these conversations if bush had not screwed everything up. We had a surplus and shared sacrifice. Now that the damage is done we argue over these problems. If their is share sacrifice the top people wouldn't be subject to tax increases higher than what is asked for now. Just think 2000 was the defining moment and yet we want to keep going down that trail. we are our own enemies.