No Discrimination in Parental Choice Program

After Four Years, Investigation Closes

In a document obtained by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the Federal Department of Justice (DOJ) has notified the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) that the investigation into the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program has been closed.

The investigation was launched in 2011 after a questionable complaint was filed by opponents of school choice with the hopes that an investigation would result in the entire program being investigated. The DOJ was unable to substantiate these claims of discrimination, and after four years, will close the investigation and will require no further action of the DPI.

“After four years, this secretive investigation has come to an end,” Jim Bender, President of School Choice Wisconsin said. “The DOJ has now reaffirmed what the DPI stated all the way back in 2011 – there is no record of the school choice programs in Wisconsin discriminating against students with special needs.”

Wisconsin’s DPI has consistently reiterated that private schools do not have the same obligations as public schools under the law. The Wisconsin Supreme Court has also ruled that private schools in the voucher program remain private entities.

While in limited circumstances private school students can access special needs services from their school district, private schools themselves receive no local, state, or federal dollars to provide special needs services within their school. Even with those limitations, many students with special needs are being taught by private schools in the program.

The School Choice Demonstration Project (SCDP) estimated that between 7.5 and 14.6 percent of Milwaukee choice students have disabilities that likely would qualify them for special education services in MPS.[1]

Admission to the Parental Choice Program is based solely on family residency and income. State law requires student applications to be accepted on a random basis and prohibits discrimination. Even with the DPI’s implementation of a new online form to facilitate parent complaints of discrimination in 2014, there have been no such complaints filed regarding the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program.

The state’s new Special Needs Voucher Program will launch next year and provide an increased voucher amount for students with special needs. This increase in funding will allow for better services for students with special needs.

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