WILL Fights for School Choice in Rural Wisconsin

Antigo School District refuses to sell vacant building to local Christian community group

The News: The Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty filed a motion to intervene in a legal dispute between the Village of Mattoon and Town of Hutchins, on the one hand, and the Antigo School District, on the other hand, over ownership of a vacant elementary school. WILL represents Shepherd’s Watch, a local Christian community group that offered to purchase the vacant Mattoon Elementary with plans to ultimately establish a private choice school in the Wisconsin Parental Choice Program.

The story was recently profiled in RealClearEducation.

The Background: Antigo School District is a high poverty rural school district in northern Wisconsin. Two out of every three students are not proficient in English or Math — well below the state average. For three years, Mattoon Elementary has been vacant, forcing parents to send their children on long bus rides (45 minutes) just to attend the closest school.

Fortunately a local non-profit, Christian community group known as Shepherd’s Watch wants to operate the vacant school building left behind in Mattoon as a community center and eventually turn it into a private school in the WPCP. WPCP is the statewide school voucher program for low-income and middle-class families and is modeled after the successful Milwaukee Parental Choice Program.

It is the plans for the private school that has fueled the legal dispute over the ownership of the vacant Mattoon Elementary. The Village of Mattoon is happy to sell the building to Shepherd’s Watch and welcomes the opportunity to have a local school, once again. But the Antigo School District, who also makes a legal claim on the property, is trying to restrict the deed to prevent the vacant elementary from ever becoming a choice or charter school.

On January 21, 2019, the Village of Mattoon and the Town of Hutchins, represented by Husch Blackwell in Milwaukee, filed a lawsuit in Shawano County circuit court to obtain a declaration regarding ownership of the property. In April, WILL filed a motion to intervene in the lawsuit on behalf of Shepherd’s Watch after the community group entered a purchase agreement with Mattoon and Hutchins.

The Quote: WILL Executive Vice President CJ Szafir said, “In rural Wisconsin, far too many children simply do not have access to a local, high performing school. In Mattoon, our client has a plan to improve the community but the local district would rather keep a vacant school building than sell to a Christian community group. We are asking the judge to allow us to intervene in the case so that our client’s interest in the building can be heard.”

What’s Next: A hearing on WILL’s motion to intervene is scheduled for July 26 and a ruling is scheduled for August 28.

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