December 18, 2023

Voucher School Lawsuit Likely to Go to Lower Court First

Voucher School Lawsuit Likely to Go to Lower Court First Featured Image

Fact-finding could occur first on private voucher system taking half-billion of school tax dollars annually.

A lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Wisconsin’s school voucher system will likely be heard by a lower court, after the Supreme Court announced it will not take up the challenge directly.

While the Supreme Court decided not to take the case, Underwood v. Vos, directly as an original action, a case can still be filed with the circuit court.

The lawsuit against the voucher system asserts that the state’s ever-increasing tax spending on vouchers – Wisconsin diverted over a half billion tax dollars to unaccountable private school vouchers last year – is unconstitutional. The Constitution requires that the state fund only public schools with taxes. Under vouchers, the majority of the state’s children are paying the price when their local public school funding is diverted to voucher schools.

“Public school educators welcome all students through our doors, no exceptions,” said teacher Peggy Wirtz-Olsen, president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council. “We support this lawsuit, because we always stand up for students and the future of public education. Every student deserves a safe, high quality school and it’s our mission to make sure that happens in Wisconsin.”

“Wisconsin is currently supporting four separate private voucher systems, none of which give taxpayers a say in how their money is spent,” Wirtz-Olsen said. “Voucher lobbyists continue to demand more funding, leading to the historic tax increase for private schools in the 2023-25 state budget. It’s time for this to stop. Wisconsin should invest in public schools that are open to all students.”

A 1992 case against vouchers was dismissed because the system was considered “experimental.” However, after 20 years of pervasive expansion statewide, it’s not experimental anymore and draining hundreds of millions that should be available to keep Wisconsin Public Schools strong.
Additionally, the Wisconsin Constitution’s Uniform Taxation Clause underscores that one school district’s property taxes cannot be rerouted to another. State officials concede that the current voucher program does just that.

In response, voucher lobbyists are currently pressuring some politicians in the state Capitol to further complicate the way the half-billion in taxpayer funding gets to their system, and several bills have already been introduced. “The one thing that the voucher system can’t stand up to is public scrutiny, but that’s exactly what taxpayers deserve,” said Wirtz-Olsen. “It’s time to pull back the curtain on the voucher system and show exactly how it increases taxes at the local and state level.”

“This last school year, [voucher system] programs cost Wisconsin taxpayers approximately $568.5 million and have only served to weaken the state’s public schools…,” the lawsuit announcement stated. “At the core of the issue lies the voucher school financing system, which appears to be designed more to harm school districts than to support voucher programs. The impact of this financing scheme has been devastating to Wisconsin’s school districts. When a student enters the voucher program, their home district loses as much as $14,671 in state equalization aid. Unfortunately, the state only provides districts with anywhere from $0 to $8,000 in equalization aid per public school student. For example, every time one student from the Madison school district obtains funding to go to a private school, the state takes away the entire state aid provided to that school district for five public school students.”