The future of the state’s voluntary school integration program in Madison was thrown into doubt Thursday by a formal opinion from Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen declaring it unconstitutional to use race to block students’ attempts to transfer to other school districts.
The 11-page opinion, issued in response to a Sept. 17 request by Deputy State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers, isn’t legally binding. However, courts consider interpretations offered by attorneys general, and the opinions can carry weight among lawmakers, too.
Madison is the only one of the state’s 426 public school districts that invokes race to deny some students’ requests to transfer to other districts under the state’s open enrollment program, the Wisconsin State Journal reported on Sept. 9.
In response to Van Hollen’s opinion, Madison schools Superintendent Art Rainwater said he and the district’s legal staff will review the document and confer with DPI officials before commenting.
“As we always have, we have every intention of obeying the law,” Rainwater said.
Figures compiled by the State Journal showed the Madison School District cited concerns over increasing its “racial imbalance” in rejecting 140 transfer requests involving 126 students for this school year. There are more applications than students because some filed more than one request.
All of the students involved in those rejected transfer requests were white.
The number of race-based rejections represents a 71 percent increase over the previous year, according to data supplied by the district. The number of rejections has nearly tripled since the 2004-05 school year.
This is an interesting paradox, a District that takes great pride in some area rankings while at the same time being resistant to such movements. Transfers can go both ways, of course. Redistributed state tax dollar transfers and local property tax & spending authority dollars are tied to enrollment.
Todd Richmond has more along with Alan Borsuk:
According to DPI spokesman Patrick Gasper, Madison is the only district in the state that could be directly affected. The Madison district has refused to allow students, almost all of them white, to enroll in other districts because of racial balance issues. This year, about 125 students were kept from transferring, Madison Superintendent Art Rainwater said.
Milwaukee Public Schools followed a similar practice in the late 1990s but changed policies about eight years ago, allowing students to attend suburban schools under the state’s open enrollment law regardless of the impact on school integration in Milwaukee.