Milwaukee Religious Schools Flout State Voucher Law

New Evidence Indicates Religious Discrimination In Admissions Plans

Two voucher schools in Milwaukee face possible expulsion from the nation’s largest voucher program after submitting "random selection" plans that include what appears to be a religious litmus test for applicants.

"This is our worst nightmare come true: religious schools want to take tax dollars but they don’t want to play by the rules," said PFAWF President Carole Shields. "When a private, religious school accepts state aid, it must also accept the obligation not to discriminate. Some of Milwaukee’s voucher schools would have their cake and eat it too."

Wisconsin’s voucher law requires private schools that receive tax dollars to admit voucher students on a nondiscriminatory basis. These schools must submit "random selection" plans for approval by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.

The two schools that submitted unacceptable random selection plans for the 1999-2000 school year have until May 15 to submit acceptable plans, warned the Department of Public Instruction. The two schools are:

Emmaus Lutheran School, whose "random selection" plan required applicants to submit a separate enrollment form giving their baptism date and the name of the church they attend.
Mt. Cavalry Lutheran School, whose plan required applicants to complete a form that asked whether the child has been baptized, the name and denomination of the family’s church, why the parents want the child enrolled in a Christian school, and how the parent will help the school give the child a Christian education.
This past school year – the first in which religious schools were allowed to participate in the voucher program – as many as one third of the voucher schools either failed to submit random selection plans at all, or filed plans that violated or appeared to violate the random selection guidelines, including some that discriminated on the basis of religion, academic background, or other factors. DPI warned approximately two dozen schools that they faced expulsion from the program if they did not submit plans that comply with the random selection requirement.

"We will continue to carefully review the random selection plans of all of Milwaukee’s voucher schools," said PFAWF Deputy Legal Director Judith E. Schaeffer. "Although we oppose vouchers, once the decision has been made to operate a voucher program, it is an unquestionable responsibility of the school that it not discriminate."

The DPI warning to the Milwaukee schools came after PFAWF and the Milwaukee branch of the NAACP filed a complaint charging that more than one third of Milwaukee’s 88 private voucher schools either are or could be in violation of the random selection requirement.

"Let this be a warning to every state legislature that is considering vouchers," Shields warned. "Even if a random selection requirement is written into the law, some private schools will resist. They want to ride the gravy train that tax dollars will provide and they want on that train on their own terms."

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