October 16, 2023

WEAC Statement: Lawsuit Challenges School Vouchers

WEAC Statement: Lawsuit Challenges School Vouchers Featured Image

A lawsuit against unaccountable private school vouchers has been filed with the Supreme Court by the Minocqua Brewing Company SuperPAC. WEAC supports the action because vouchers don’t outperform public schools and siphon over $500 million in tax dollars from local school districts.

“Wisconsin Public School teachers and support professionals 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.”

The lawsuit focuses on the web of private voucher systems in Wisconsin, including the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, the Wisconsin Parental Choice Program, the Racine Parental Choice Program, the Special Needs Scholarship Program and the privately-run Independent Charter School Program.

“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 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.”

In 2022-23, voucher programs cost Wisconsin taxpayers approximately $568.5 million while voucher students achieve similar academic results as public schools. Public schools welcome all students, no exceptions, while voucher schools are not required to accept all students and often send children back to public schools after collecting state funding. Parents also leave federal special education rights outside the doors of private voucher schools, while public schools meet all needs identified by a team made up of families, educators and other experts.

The Minocqua Brewing Company lawsuit raises two significant claims:

  • The Wisconsin Constitution’s “public purpose requirement,” stipulates public funds must solely be used for public endeavors. While a 1992 case, Davis v. Grover, dismissed a similar challenge based on the “experimental” nature of the voucher program, its pervasive expansion statewide since then calls for a renewed examination.
  • The Wisconsin Constitution’s Uniform Taxation Clause underscores that one school district’s property taxes cannot be rerouted to another. With state officials conceding that the current voucher program functions similarly to a property tax-based funding mechanism, this clause may prove pivotal.

Central to the legal challenge will be a focus on the voucher programs as not only a drain on public schools but as systems that are not held to the same standards. Particularly, taxpayer-funded voucher schools are often not obliged to meet fundamental educational benchmarks and often lack comprehensive provisions for students with disabilities.