(Guest post by Greg Forster)
Well, this is interesting. Someone just sent me a hyperventilating press release from the ACLU bragging about how they got the USDOJ to issue a letter to Wisconsin’s Department of Public Instruction. The letter declares that the Milwaukee voucher program is a “public entity” under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and is therefore subject to ADA prohibitions on discrimination. USDOJ orders Wisconsin to undertake several actions designed to allow USDOJ to determine whether such discrimination is taking place, and to deter it. You can read the letter here.
I doubt this will be a big deal. There is certainly some minor bad news for school choice here. Assuming this letter stands up to any challenges brought against it, private schools may lose a small degree of autonomy over admissions and services. Private schools ought to be free to say to some parents “we are not able to accommodate your needs”; I know some people think that’s bad, but not every school can be the right school for every child. The failure to realize this basic fact is at the very heart of our dysfunctional government school monopoly. Turning from admissions to services, one reason private schools are able to provide better services to disabled students is because they aren’t tied down to the rigid IDEA bureaucracy that public schools are required to use. This letter will not impose the IDEA monster on voucher schools, thankfully, but it could lead to steps in the wrong direction. The letter also orders Wisconsin to conduct ADA training for staff in voucher schools; that’s a hassle they don’t need, but not likely to impact education in a major way. Still, things like this are a good example of why ADA is a very badly crafted law – it basically empowers USDOJ to issue arbitrary orders based on ambiguous definitions (what exactly is a “reasonable accommodation”?).
On the other hand, I wonder if the ACLU has rushed to brag about something that, upon further reflection, it may live to regret. The USDOJ letter begins by listing the allegations made against Wisconsin public schools, which justify its investigation. The very first allegation is that “students with disabilities in the Milwaukee Public Schools are deterred by DPI and participating voucher schools from participating in the school choice program.” That’s “DPI” as in “Department of Public Instruction.”
So the U.S. Department of Justice is now officially investigating whether Milwaukee public schools are blocking students from using vouchers . . . thanks to the ACLU!
One thing the letter orders Wisconsin to do is conduct “public outreach about the school choice program to students with disabilities.” By all means – make sure they know their options!
Thanks, ACLU geniuses!
PS Do you think anyone at the ACLU asked themselves why public schools would seek to prevent students from using the voucher program, if (as we are constantly told by voucher opponents) the imperative to serve those students is a terrible drain on the public school system?