School Choice & Charters

Complaint: Milwaukee Vouchers Segregate Students With Disabilities

By Nirvi Shah — June 08, 2011 1 min read
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The American Civil Liberties Union and other groups have filed a complaint that accuses the state of Wisconsin and some private schools that accept vouchers of creating a system of segregated public schools.

Data reported by the private schools shows that 1.6 percent of the students they enroll using vouchers have disabilities, while almost 20 percent of Milwaukee public schools have special needs. The schools that accept vouchers had to participate in state testing for the first time this school year. The data reported by those schools was one of the catalysts for filing a complaint, said Karyn Rotker, a senior staff attorney for the ACLU in Wisconsin.

“This is something we’ve heard about for a long time; it was hard to get a grip on it,” Ms. Rotker said.

The complaint, filed on behalf of several students, accuses the state’s department of public instruction of not policing whether the private schools that receive public money to instruct Milwaukee students are discriminating against students with disabilities. Although Milwaukee students have had access to vouchers for about 20 years, the program is administered by the state, not the city school district.

With the voucher program poised for expansion, as early as the coming school year, Ms. Rotker of the ACLU in Wisconsin said her organization has asked the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Civil Rights to address the complaint quickly.

Earlier, I wrote about vouchers and students with disabilities and some of the issues parents should be aware of before making that choice.

But regardless of whether private schools are accommodating to students with disabilities or whether parents of those students even want them to use vouchers to attend those schools, Ms. Rotker said Milwaukee’s 81,000 student public school system is losing its diversity.

“The entire structure of the system is almost inevitably leading to the segregation of children in Milwaukee Public Schools,” she said.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the On Special Education blog.