Recently Wisconsin Watch released articles criticizing the Wisconsin parental choice programs and incorrectly claiming that private schools may “discriminate.” This memo provides resources and information about the false claims made in the article and talking points to refute them.
The claims that private schools may “discriminate” are false.
These claims are false. Wisconsin Watch claims that federal law “allows religious entities to discriminate against LGBTQ+ students” and that schools in the parental choice program may discriminate against LGBTQ+ students or those with disabilities “once that student is enrolled.”
Private schools are governed by different laws than public schools. There are specific prohibitions of discrimination that apply to private schools participating in the parental choice program. For example, Wisconsin law requires private schools in the choice programs to do a blind admission process. Schools are not permitted to create barriers for enrollment for student based on anything other than the DPI application and income verification forms. Private schools are allowed to give existing students and their siblings eligibility preferences.
Private schools are not permitted to “discriminate” against students with disabilities.
The Obama Administration began a misguided investigation into private schools in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program in 2011. DPI, at that time, correctly stated that private schools in the program have a different legal standard to serve students with disabilities. Despite a three-year investigation, there were no instances of discrimination found.
Private schools have a different legal standard than public schools for students with disabilities.
Public schools are subject to several state and federal laws regarding the education of students with disabilities including the requirement that public school districts may not deny any student access to a “Free and Appropriate Public Education” and receive specific funds to educate children with disabilities. Even within public school districts, not all individual schools are required to provide a full range of special education services.
Private schools must meet a different legal standard. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Title III of the Americans with Disability Act (ADA) set forth requirements for private schools.
Title III of the ADA requires private schools to make “reasonable modifications” for individuals with disabilities to access the facility and prohibits private schools from discriminating against individuals based on their disability. Changes to accommodate may not fundamentally alter the nature of the goods and services provided by the private school or impose an undue financial or administrative burden on the private school. Similarly, Section 504 requires private schools to make “minor adjustments” for individuals with disabilities to access the facility. Private schools may consider the nature of the program provided and the expense of accommodations sought when serving individuals with disabilities under Section 504.
Furthermore, private schools participating in the Wisconsin Special Needs Scholarship Program, to specifically serve students with disabilities, must meet with families to complete an agreement to discuss the educational needs of each student and to explain special education resources available at the school. Participating private schools are also required to provide reports to parents about student progress.
The Wisconsin Watch articles do not specifically claim a private school violated the federal laws regarding students with disabilities.
Private schools in Wisconsin serve hundreds of students with disabilities.
Academic research found that private schools in Wisconsin parental choice programs serve many students with disabilities. Reported disability rates are often lower because choice schools lack the financial incentive public schools have for identification.
This is further supported by the growing participation in the Special Needs Scholarship Program, a state-funded program to give students with disabilities funding to attend a private school of their choice. Since the program’s creation in 2015, participation has grown by 815%, from 215 to 1,986 students.
Private schools in the choice program welcome all students.
Private schools in the choice program choose to participate in the program, with full knowledge that they are opening their doors to students and families from all different backgrounds and beliefs. Many of these schools participate because they want to serve as many students as possible.
Private schools in the choice program may not require participation in religious classes.
Once enrolled, all students are subject to the policies of the school, religious policies included. If families disagree with the religious beliefs of the school, state law permits families to opt their children out of religious instruction.
Additionally, the choice program is a voluntary program that empowers families to choose the school that best fits their child’s needs. Families are always free to choose to send their children to a school that matches their values.
Religious schools have a constitutional protection to serve students based on their beliefs.
The U.S. Constitution protects the free exercise of religion. This allows religious schools to teach and make decisions based on their religious beliefs. For private, religious schools, this includes decisions relating to policies and procedures at the school.
Both the Wisconsin Supreme Court and U.S. Supreme Court have determined that parental choice programs are legal.
The claims that taxpayer dollars should not go to schools that enforce their religious beliefs has been litigated both in Wisconsin and most recently in the U.S. Supreme Court. The U.S. Supreme Court has made clear that if states choose to create and provide a parental choice program the state may not discriminate against faith-based schools and may not bar students from using public funds to attend religious schools.
With private schools, the choice ultimately lies with the student, parent, and family.
All families deserve to access high-quality schools that meet their child’s needs. Far too many families are stuck in their assigned public schools, but school choice provides families with the option to attend the school that is the best fit for their child.
Ultimately, parents and students have every right to go to a school that matches their moral convictions. The whole idea behind school choice is if a parent or student is upset with how a school is run, then they can in fact go somewhere else and take their money with them.
For additional questions, please contact:
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Notes and links on “Wisconsin Watch”
“Well, it’s kind of too bad that we’ve got the smartest people at our universities, and yet we have to create a law to tell them how to teach.”
The data clearly indicate that being able to read is not a requirement for graduation at (Madison) East, especially if you are black or Hispanic”
My Question to Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers on Teacher Mulligans and our Disastrous Reading Results
2017: West High Reading Interventionist Teacher’s Remarks to the School Board on Madison’s Disastrous Reading Results
Madison’s taxpayer supported K-12 school district, despite spending far more than most, has long tolerated disastrous reading results.
“An emphasis on adult employment”
Wisconsin Public Policy Forum Madison School District Report[PDF]
WEAC: $1.57 million for Four Wisconsin Senators
Friday Afternoon Veto: Governor Evers Rejects AB446/SB454; an effort to address our long term, disastrous reading results
Booked, but can’t read (Madison): functional literacy, National citizenship and the new face of Dred Scott in the age of mass incarceration.
No When A Stands for Average: Students at the UW-Madison School of Education Receive Sky-High Grades. How Smart is That?