The American Civil Liberties Union and other groups have filed a federal complaint that accuses the state of Wisconsin and some private schools that accept vouchers of creating a system of segregated public schools for students with disabilities.
Data reported by private schools involved in the Milwaukee voucher program show 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 the tuition vouchers had to participate in state testing for the first time this school year, and the data reported by those schools were a catalyst for the complaint, said Karyn Rotker, a senior staff lawyer 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 with the U.S. Department of Justice on behalf of several students, accuses the state education department of not policing whether the private schools that receive public money to instruct Milwaukee students are discriminating against students with disabilities.
Students in the 81,000-student district have had access to vouchers for about 20 years through the state-administered program.
This year, Wisconsin’s Republican-dominated legislature and Gov. Scott Walker, also a Republican, have pushed to expand the voucher program beyond Milwaukee and to more students. It’s a move that the elected state schools superintendent, Tony Evers, opposes at a time when legislators are cutting overall state education spending. In a sharply worded memo to lawmakers last month, Mr. Evers wrote that spending “hundreds of millions to expand a 20-year-old program that has not improved overall student achievement, while defunding public education, is morally wrong.”
With the voucher program poised for expansion as early as the coming school year, Ms. Rotker said her organization has asked the Justice Department’s civil rights division to address the complaint quickly.
A version of this article appeared in the June 15, 2011 edition of Education Week as ACLU: Wis. Voucher Program Creates Segregated Schools