At the behest of the federal Department of Justice who are investigating possible discrimination against students with disabilities, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction requested voluntary information from Wisconsin’s voucher schools. This has voucher proponents and GOP legislators…well…seeing red!
…the DPI’s request that was sent to schools last week — prompted by complaints submitted to the DOJ in 2011 that taxpayer-financed voucher schools were turning away students with special needs — has already met with harsh criticism by advocates for the voucher program.
Rick Esenberg, president of the conservative nonprofit law firm, Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, blasted the DPI in a news release, saying the department was being “commandeered” by the Justice Department.
Republican state senators in Madison also expressed their frustration. Sen. Paul Farrow (R-Pewaukee) sent a letter Monday to DPI Superintendent Tony Evers reprimanding him for the request.
“I am disappointed in your mismanagement, deceit, and undermining of not only the parental school choice programs, but of the authority of the Legislature as well,” Farrow wrote in the letter.
Well it seems that the bills that the legislature passed as part and parcel of the bills that authorized vouchers included wording that prevents voucher schools from being compelled to provide the information:
Private schools in the voucher program can’t be required under current state law to make available information about students with disabilities…. Rick Esenberg, an attorney and president of the conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, said he thinks that even asking for the information to be turned over voluntarily could be a violation of the law.
But here is the kicker (emphasis mine):
Public schools must provide that data.
I really hope that students with special needs aren’t be discriminated against by schools using tax dollars. But we can’t know unless there is visibility into their enrollment practices. And they have every incentive not to enroll students with disabilities:
Students with disabilities are typically more expensive to educate, but voucher schools receive the same taxpayer subsidy for every student.
If a school is willing to accept tax dollars to educate children…they should be willing to provide the same reporting as public schools.
…said Monica Murphy, managing attorney at Disability Rights Wisconsin. “DPI can ask for whatever it wants. Why are (voucher advocates) afraid to provide the data?”