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WILL sues DPI over restrictive School Choice policy

Empower Wisconsin | May 20, 2020

MADISON — The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction denied a West Allis couple’s application to send their two children to a high-performing Wisconsin Parental Choice Program school because DPI determined the family was $47 over the income threshold and wouldn’t accept a revised application. 

So, Katrina and Noah Olguin, Sr. made a legal contribution to an IRA account, resubmitted their tax return and reapplied to the Wisconsin Parental Choice Program. DPI refused to consider the new application. The agency cited a “one and done” policy, according to a lawsuit filed against DPI and its superintendent by the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL) in Waukesha County Circuit Court.

The plaintiffs include the Olguins, Heritage Christian Schools in New Berlin, and School Choice Wisconsin Action, a Brookfield-based organization that advocates for parental choice in education. They claim DPI adopted an illegal policy to block the family from enrolling in the statewide school voucher program.

“State law allows eligible parents, through geography and income requirements, to be able to participate in the program,” said Terry Brown, chairman of School Choice Wisconsin Action, in a statement. “But the convoluted process by which DPI denies many eligible families access each year is at conflict with both legislative intent and rational thought.”

As the lawsuit notes, the Parental Choice Program requires families submit financial information to determine whether they meet the income eligibility requirements. That threshold is 220 percent of the poverty line.

But DPI refused to consider the Olguins’ new application, citing a policy that families are allowed only one submission during an enrollment period – regardless of a change in circumstances, according to a press release from WILL. Without relief, their ninth-grade son will not receive a voucher unless he switches from a private school to a public school and then back again, under DPI’s controversial policy.

“When administrative agencies adopt rules and regulations, they are required to proceed through a rulemaking process outlined in state law. This ensures proper public notice and legislative oversight. DPI failed to follow this process,” WILL states in its release.

The Milwaukee-based public interest law firm  is asking the court to rule that DPI’s policy violates the rulemaking process and declare the Olguin family are eligible for the WPCP.

“DPI’s job is to facilitate education in Wisconsin. But too often DPI finds ways to work against families and schools in the parental choice program. WILL is prepared to stand with families who want to attend the school that meets their needs,” WILL Deputy Counsel Lucas Vebber said.

Read the complaint here.

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