WILL Sues DPI for Blocking Family from School Choice Program
DPI adopted illegal policy to block West Allis family from attending high performing school
The News: The Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL) sued the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) on behalf of a West Allis family, Heritage Christian Schools, and School Choice Wisconsin Action (SCWA), after the department adopted an illegal policy to block a family from enrolling in the Wisconsin Parental Choice Program (WPCP) – the statewide voucher program. The lawsuit was filed in Waukesha County Circuit Court.
Background: To apply for the Wisconsin Parental Choice Program (WPCP), families must submit financial information to determine whether they meet the income eligibility requirements in state statute – 220% of the poverty line. Further, the WPCP has specific grade entry points for students who are already in a private school – kindergarten, 1st, and 9th grade – meaning families with children in private schools who want to participate in the WPCP have specific windows when they are eligible to apply.
The Lawsuit: When the Olguin family in West Allis applied to the WPCP for their kindergartner and 9th grader to attend Heritage Christian Schools, a high performing school, DPI determined the family was $47 over the income threshold. To meet the threshold, the Olguin family made a legal contribution to an IRA account, resubmitted their tax return and reapplied to the program. But DPI refused to consider the Olguin’s new application, citing a ‘one and done’ policy that families are allowed only one submission during an enrollment period – regardless of a change in circumstances. Without relief, their 9th grade son will never receive a voucher unless he were to switch schools from a private school to a public school and then back again.
WILL’s lawsuit, on behalf of the Olguins, Heritage Christian Schools, and School Choice Wisconsin Action, alleges DPI’s ‘one and done’ application policy is illegal. 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 is asking the Court to rule that DPI’s policy violates the rulemaking process and provide relief for the Olguin family, declaring that they are eligible for the WPCP.
The Quotes: WILL Deputy Counsel Lucas Vebber said, “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.”
Terry Brown, Chair of School Choice Wisconsin Action said, “State law allows eligible parents, through geography and income requirements, to be able to participate in the program. But the convoluted process by which DPI denies many eligible families access each year is at conflict with both legislative intent and rational thought.”
- Deputy Counsel Lucas Vebber
- Director and Legal Counsel of Education Policy Libby Sobic
- The Complaint, May 18, 2020
- How DPI Invented a Rule to Keep Families Out of the School Choice Program, Cori Petersen, May 18, 2020