Judge rules DPI violated law in treatment of choice schools
The News: Waukesha Circuit Court Judge Bohren issued a summary judgement order Tuesday in favor of School Choice Wisconsin Action (SCWA), a WILL client, that sued the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI), the state education agency, for their unfair, illegal treatment of private schools in Wisconsin’s choice programs. WILL filed the lawsuit on behalf of SCWA in March after DPI denied private choice schools the opportunity to fully utilize online, virtual learning as part of classroom instruction.
Judge Bohren wrote in his decision, “There is not a legitimate government interest in denying Choice Schools the opportunity to use “virtual learning” as Public schools do. The denial is harmful to the Choice Schools and its students.”
The Quotes: Libby Sobic, Director of Education Policy at the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty said, “Today, the Waukesha Circuit Court ruled that the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction broke the law when it denied private schools in the choice program the opportunity to fully utilize online learning as part of classroom instruction. For too long, DPI has been unfair in their treatment of private schools in Wisconsin’s choice programs and today’s decision affirms that when they break the law, they will be held accountable.”
Terry Brown, Chair of School Choice Wisconsin Action said, “State statutes are created and changed by elected officials accountable directly to the public. State agencies run by unelected bureaucrats are not allowed to modify or interpret those laws without legislative oversight.”
The Lawsuit: Many schools have turned to virtual learning days, where students participate in classroom activities from home, to mitigate disruptive events like snow days. DPI currently allows public schools to count virtual instruction towards the hourly pupil instruction requirements. But in February, DPI determined that private schools in the choice program could not count virtual instruction towards their hourly pupil instruction requirements.
WILL sued DPI, on behalf of School Choice Wisconsin Action, because state law does not empower DPI to make policy decisions without going through the rule-making process. In this case, where DPI determined virtual instruction would not count for private schools in the choice programs, DPI did not follow state law. Additionally, WILL argued that DPI was violating the equal protection rights of private schools in the choice program by treating them differently.
Judge Bohren agreed with WILL on all counts.
- “WILL, SCWA Sue DPI in School Choice Lawsuit,” March 27, 2019