Public Education is the bulwark of
democracy, but what has gone wrong in
Voucher expansion, the school to prison pipeline, and
Because Freedom Can’t Protect Itself
In Wisconsin, there is an expression of collective commitment to
public education. As Article X, Section 3 of the Wisconsin
Constitution notes, all children between the ages of 4 and 20 years
have a right to a free and public education, in school districts as
nearly uniform as possible.
On a federal level, the U.S. Supreme Court has long recognized the
importance of public education.
As Justice William J. Brennan wrote, education is not merely “some
governmental ‘benefit’ indistinguishable from other forms of social
welfare legislation. Both the importance of education in maintaining
our basic institutions and the lasting impact of its deprivation.”
Every MPS school is required to have a democratically elected
school council. The majority of the council is comprised of students’
parents or caregivers, and elected by the school’s
parents/caregivers. The council also includes the principal and
teacher representatives elected by their peers, and at least one
community member elected by fellow council members. At high
schools, students have a democratically elected representative.
Discrimination on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation or
religion is illegal.
Legal Obligations of Voucher
Schools in the voucher program are private schools. As a result,
they do not have the same legal responsibility as public schools to
educate all children. For instance:
Voucher schools do not have to provide the same level of special
Voucher schools do not have to provide bilingual or English
Language Learner services.
Voucher schools do not have to provide services for homeless
Voucher schools do not have to hire certified teachers.
Voucher schools can set their own criteria for expelling a
What went wrong?
Milwaukee has had voucher schools for more than 20 years.
An apples-to-apples achievement comparison released in 2011 by
the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction found that
Milwaukee public school students outperformed voucher school
students in reading and math.
The math scores were particularly troubling. The report found that
while 48 percent of Milwaukee public school students scored
proficient or better in math, only 34 percent of voucher school
students scored proficient or better. And at some private schools, the
report found, less than 20 percent of voucher students scored
proficient or better in math or reading.
A recent study found that 15
voucher schools in Milwaukee
and Racine teach a creationist
curriculum. In Milwaukee, more
than 84 percent of voucher
students attend religiously
affiliated schools. In the Racine
program, 10 out of 11 schools
Vouchers = Religious Subsidies
This year, another 43 religious schools have registered with the
Department of Public Instruction (DPI) to receive tax dollars as the
voucher subsidy program expands across the State. They join the
25 religious schools subsidized last year. The limit on vouchers and
their cost to taxpayers doubles next year to 1,000. Every one of the
68 schools is religious.
While the religious education program expands, the schools
receiving tax dollars continue to be free from meaningful
accountability requirements. Legislators say they favor additional
accountability, but they have met the expectation of their pro-
voucher donors that none will be required.
The public should not be forced to financially support homophobic,
anti-woman beliefs that are at odds with democratic rights and public
For example, St. Marcus School, is part of the conservative
Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod. Its core beliefs include:
Homosexuality is a sin.
Living together outside of marriage is a sin.
Women are not to hold positions of authority over men.
A literal interpretation of the Bible.
The theory of evolution is wrong.
The Papacy of the Roman Catholic Church is the anti-Christ.
Achievement / Opportunity Gap
The racial and ethnic “achievement” gap in Wisconsin public
schools is long-documented.
In 2011, black and Hispanic eighth-graders in Wisconsin public
schools scored at least 24 points lower than their white
counterparts in math and reading, according to data compiled by
the National Center for Education Statistics.
What’s more, in math classes, Wisconsin black eighth-graders
scored an average of 39 points lower than white eighth-graders —
and these numbers have barely budged in more than 20 years.
We need to narrow the achievement gap. But voucher schools
aren’t the answer. Voucher schools rob our public school system of
the funding necessary to help students succeed.
School to Prison Pipeline
This is a disturbing national trend
wherein children are funneled out
of public schools and into the
juvenile and criminal justice
systems. Many of these children
have learning disabilities or
histories of poverty, abuse or
neglect, and would benefit from
additional educational and
counseling services. Instead, they
are isolated, punished and pushed
Zero Tolerance Policies
Criminalize minor infractions of
school rules, while cops in school
lead to students being
criminalized for behavior that
should be handled inside the
school. Students of color are
especially vulnerable to push-out
trends and the discriminatory
application of discipline.
Without improving outcomes for
students of color, we cannot begin
to address the mass incarceration
rate and disparities in Wisconsin.
ACLU of Wisconsin
The ACLU-WI is a nonprofit 501(c)4, non-partisan
membership organization - with nearly 7,000 dues-
paying individuals in Wisconsin. It is the state affiliate of
the American Civil Liberties Union. Our mission is “to
protect and promote the civil liberties and civil rights of
all the people of Wisconsin in a non-partisan manner.”
The ACLU of Wisconsin envisions a diverse society that
better understands, values, and protects civil liberties
and civil rights.
The ACLU-WI has a sister organization, the ACLU-WI
Foundation, which has 501(c)(3) IRS nonprofit status.
May 17 in Milwaukee – www.SchoolsandCommunitiesUnited.org
Follow Us, Friend Us, Whatever!
One of the simplest ways to stay up-to-date with what is
happening at the ACLU of Wisconsin is to get involved
with our social media.
For more information about
this issue or the ACLU in
Chris Ahmuty at:
or read more on our website at:
EXAMPLE – CLOSING SLIDE