Milwaukee parents allege voucher program discriminates against students with disabilities

Should students with disabilities get to use vouchers, too? Should private schools have to accept them? Some parents say some private schools aren’t taking vouchers from students with disabilities and they are complaining.

Journalists reported that the parents of children with disabilities in Milwaukee (WI, US) and the American Civil Liberties Union have complained to the US Deaprtment of Justice that a Milwaukee school program permitting parents to choose schools discriminates against students with disabilities. According to the complaint, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) and the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program “discriminated against students with disabilities and segregated those students in one portion of the publicly funded educational system.” The statistical basis for the argument is that 1.6% of students in the voucher-supported schools have disabilities, but nearly 20% of the students in the public schools have disabilities.

Twenty years ago, Wisconsin passed laws creating, and DPI began implementing, a private school voucher system in the city of Milwaukee. The program provides public tax dollars for low-income students who live in the city to attend private religious and non-sectarian schools, at an estimated cost of $130.8 million for the 2010-11 school year. In 1990, when the voucher program began, it had only seven schools, enrolling just 337 students. In the last two decades it has grown to include more than 100 schools and now enrolls approximately 20% of the city’s students.

Today, nearly 21,000 Milwaukee students attend private schools with these public vouchers. Although an average of 83% of the students in voucher schools attend with a tuition voucher, and in many private schools all of the students attend on taxpayer-funded vouchers, the State of Wisconsin asserts that the voucher schools are “private” schools. The state’s implementing agency, DPI, fails to meaningfully enforce anti-discrimination laws against these schools; as a result, the voucher schools tend not to admit or accommodate students with disabilities in a non-discriminatory manner. The two individual parent complainants are examples of the voucher schools’ discrimination against students with disabilities. D.E. attempted to enroll her two children with disabilities in a voucher school this year and they were never admitted. D.J.’s daughter, who has been diagnosed with a disability, was enrolled in a voucher school but expelled after her disability was not accommodated.

In addition to reading the full complaint (from which I drew the extract), see this coverage:

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John Lloyd

John Lloyd--founder and lead editor for SpedPro.org