Whose "Lies and Distortions?"

Do voucher schools use selective admission practices?

Lies and Distortions claims that it’s unfair to accuse voucher schools of using admission practices to “cream” the best students. Fuller is correct that the Wisconsin voucher law provides that voucher schools are supposed to engage in random selection of voucher students. (The only exception to the random selection provision is that a private school may give preference to siblings of voucher students.) What Fuller omits is that private schools in the Milwaukee voucher program appear to have violated this law both in their written random selection plans and in admissions practices. In fact, an elite private high school affiliated with Fuller’s own institution, Marquette University, recently settled a complaint
about admissions practices.

In 1999, People For the American Way Foundation (PFAWF) reviewed the written plans submitted by the private and religious schools participating in the voucher program for the 1998-99 school year, and found that the plans of 35 schools—more than a third of the 88 voucher schools—appear to have violated the random selection requirement. Several schools’ plans clearly stated they would choose students based on such factors as religion, parish membership, and academic achievement. For example, one school’s plan read: “New students to Saint Alexander’s will be accepted in the following order: Siblings, Catholic Students from Saint Alexander’s Parish, Catholic students from other parishes, and then non-Catholic students [emphasis added].”12

Following the initial investigation of the random selection plans, PFAWF conducted an investigation of the actual admission practices of a number of the voucher schools participating in the voucher program during the 1999-2000 school year. This investigation— conducted by trained civil rights testers from the Metropolitan Milwaukee Fair Housing Council—revealed that many voucher schools violated the law by imposing unlawful admissions requirements on voucher students, charging them unlawful fees, and discouraging parents of voucher students from exercising their statutory right to opt their children out of religious activities.13 For example, an affidavit filed by one member of the investigation team reported that the top administrator for the Oklahoma Avenue Lutheran School stated “that if parents are going to opt out of the religious aspects, then he wants them to opt out of the school. He added, ‘If you don’t want your children to take part in the religion, our school’s not for you. It’s a Christian education. That’s what we’re about.’ ”14

Based on its review of random selection plans and actual admissions practices, PFAWF joined with the NAACP to file a complaint with the state Department of Public Instruction (DPI). In April 2000, DPI issued findings of “probable cause” to believe that certain voucher schools were violating the law, and entered into conciliation procedures with those schools in an effort to settle the charges.15 To date, it has settled with two schools, Nazareth Lutheran and Marquette University High School.16 Marquette has agreed to change its application process in order to inform prospective voucher students that they do not have to take the school’s selective entrance exam.

However, even Marquette’s final agreement warns that students choosing not to take the school’s entrance exam “may have a lower chance of admission” and advises low-income parents “wishing to maximize” their children’s chances for admission to have their children take the entrance exam.17 DPI’s conciliation efforts with the other voucher schools are still pending.

Recently defeated voucher initiatives in Michigan and California demonstrate that concerns about student selection are real. Prior to the defeat of Michigan’s initiative in November 2000, several private schools in the state announced they would reject voucher students who were Jewish, who didn’t accept Jesus Christ as their savior, or who did not have at least one parent who was a born-again Christian.18 Under California’s Proposition 38, private schools would have been permitted to reject public school children for almost any reason, including prior academic record, religion, sex, learning disability, proficiency in English or ability to pay extra tuition and fees.19

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