Monday, January 4, 2016

Feds quietly close long-running probe of Milwaukee voucher program

Feds quietly close long-running probe of Milwaukee voucher program:

Feds quietly close long-running probe of Milwaukee voucher program

U.S. investigated treatment of students with disabilities

Once again, WI public schools outperform taxpayer-funded voucher schools « Education Votes

The U.S. Department of Justice has closed a long-running investigation into whether the Milwaukee private school voucher program discriminates against students with disabilities, with no apparent findings of major wrongdoing.
In a quiet conclusion to a probe that's drawn national attention, the Justice Department sent a letter to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction on Dec. 23, saying that no further action is warranted beyond the materials it reviewed, meetings it conducted and changes it requested the DPI make to its administration of the Milwaukee voucher program two years ago — directives the DPI largely could not act upon under state law.
The Justice Department left the door open to investigating future complaints, according to the letter.
Disability Rights Wisconsin, one of the agencies that brought the 2011 complaint that spurred the investigation, may still pursue individual action on behalf of aggrieved families, managing attorney Monica Murphy said.
"I think there are families that feel their children's needs haven't adequately been served," Murphy said. "We went the DOJ route because it was a way of having a more systematic impact and having things apply across the board."
But voucher school advocates, who have criticized the probe as politically motivated and aimed at undermining the private, mostly religious schools that receive state money, saw the latest development as a win.
"Finally, after four years of a systematic, legally dubious investigation, there will be closure without any finding of discrimination in the school choice program," said Jim Bender, president of the advocacy group School Choice Wisconsin.

Complaint spurred probe

The American Civil Liberties Union and Disability Rights Wisconsin complained to the Justice Department's Office for Civil Rights in June 2011 that the Milwaukee voucher program systematically excluded children with disabilities and segregated them in public schools.
Private schools that participate in the Milwaukee voucher program cannot deny students admission on the basis of a disability. But because voucher schools are private institutions, they are not legally bound to offer the same range of special education services or physical accommodations that public schools must provide under federal law. Voucher schools also get less money than public schools for special education services.
The Milwaukee voucher program allows qualifying children to attend a participating private school with a taxpayer-funded tuition voucher worth between about $7,000 and $8,000 annually.
Since the investigation was launched, Gov. Scott Walker signed legislation that extended vouchers to other private schools across the state. The 2015-'17 state budget also created a special needs voucher program,which will allow some students with disabilities to leave public schools and use a voucher worth about $12,000 annually to attend a private school starting in 2016-'17.
The letter from the Justice Department, obtained by a Journal Sentinel reporter from the Department of Public Instruction offices in Madison, says the DPI would forward any complaints received in the future about that new program to federal officials.

Practical impact

Over the past 41/2 years, parties on both sides of the complaint often struggled to get information about the status of the slow-moving federal investigation.
Wisconsin U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, who supports voucher programs, became vocal in 2015, calling for the Feds quietly close long-running probe of Milwaukee voucher program: