School Choice & Charters

Department of Justice Closes Investigation Into Milwaukee School Vouchers

By Arianna Prothero — January 04, 2016 1 min read
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The U.S. Department of Justice has wrapped up a high profile, four-year investigation into whether Milwaukee’s school voucher program discriminates against students with disabilities, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

The 2011 complaint filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and other local groups claimed that students with disabilities were discouraged from participating in the voucher program, denied admission to voucher schools when they did apply, and expelled or forced out of voucher schools they were admitted to. The program allows low-income students to use publicly funded vouchers to pay for tuition at private schools.

The Journal Sentinel obtained a copy of a letter from the feds notifying the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction that it had officially closed its investigation, and that any future complaints are to be forwarded to the Justice Department. Details from the Journal Sentinel:

[T]he Justice Department sent a letter to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction on Dec. 23, saying that no further action is warranted beyond the materials it reviewed, meetings it conducted and changes it requested the DPI make to its administration of the Milwaukee voucher program two years ago -- directives the DPI largely could not act upon under state law. The Justice Department left the door open to investigating future complaints, according to the letter."

But, as the newspaper reports, the DOJ’s decision to close this investigation doesn’t mean the tug-of-war between advocates over one of the country’s oldest and largest voucher programs is settled: an attorney for Disability Rights Wisconsin, one of the groups that brought the complaint, said it may still pursue legal action on behalf of individual families.

Meanwhile, the voucher landscape in Wisconsin continues to evolve: State lawmakers expanded vouchers statewide in 2013 and created a new voucher program last May specifically for students with disabilities, which is slated to launch in the 2016-17 school year.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Charters & Choice blog.