ACLU Applauds as USDOJ Orders Wisconsin Public Schools to . . . Stop Blocking Kids from Using Vouchers?

Wile falling

(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?

6 Responses to ACLU Applauds as USDOJ Orders Wisconsin Public Schools to . . . Stop Blocking Kids from Using Vouchers?

  1. Erin Tuttle says:

    Do officials at the Department of Justice not realize that some private simply can’t physically admit some disabilities? Many old private school buildings do not even have elevators and have no money to install them. Many do not have programs for anything more severe than mild dyslexia as there may only be one resource person for 60 kids. Sorry for the DOJ, but some state laws permit vouchers, any attempt to claim discrimination was obvious from the inception of the legislation by a simple building inspection or review of staff. This seems like a fruitless attempt and waste of money.

    • Greg Forster says:

      Well, the point of this is not to help kids but to harass schools, so the merits aren’t likely to matter. And ADA is a broadly written law.

  2. Matthew Ladner says:

    Ummmmm….the obvious solution here is to pass a McKay bill with the full funding following special needs students.

    • Greg Forster says:

      That is indeed the obvious thing to do, and not just in Wisconsin! It wouldn’t alleviate the whole ADA problem, but it would clearly empower disabled children far more than any ADA action will!

  3. Minnesota Kid says:

    A bunch of very smart, handsome, bearded researchers did a careful study of special education in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program that has much to contribute to this discussion. To Erin’s point, yes, many of the voucher schools lack the facilities to accommodate some students with severe disabilities, but another factor behind the low rate of special education classification in the program is because parents don’t want their child classified with a disability and, wait for it…, private schools of choice are darn good at giving parents what they want! For the report, see:

    • Greg Forster says:

      Wait a minute, wait a minute, hold on here. If they’re bearded, how can they be handsome? Logic error, logic error, does not compute.

      This is the part where Kirk shouts EXECUTE YOUR PRIMARY FUNCTION!

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