The state's Milwaukee school voucher program has discriminated against students with disabilities, according to a federal complaint filed Tuesday by the American Civil Liberties Union.
The complaint, filed with the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division, comes as expansion of the voucher program to other cities moves closer to Legislative approval.
The program, which began 20 years ago and serves nearly 21,000 students, provides public money for students to attend private schools, including religious schools.
The complaint states that 1.6 percent of voucher students have disabilities, compared with 19.5 percent of Milwaukee Public School students. It alleges the state has failed to hold private voucher schools accountable for serving children with disabilities.
"Increasing the size of the voucher program — as the state intends to do — will only lead to even more discrimination and more segregation of children with disabilities," said Karyn Rotker, senior staff attorney with the ACLU of Wisconsin. "We hope DOJ will step in to stop that from occurring."
Disability Rights Wisconsin and two parents of students with disabilities are also listed as complainants. The state of Wisconsin, the Department of Public Instruction and two Milwaukee private schools are named as respondents.
A U.S. DOJ spokeswoman said the department is reviewing the complaint and related documents to determine whether there are any federal civil rights violations.
DPI spokesman Patrick Gasper said his agency will cooperate with the investigation. "Our data points to large discrepancies in student populations with formally identified special education needs between Milwaukee Public Schools and the schools participating in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program," Gasper said. "We have expressed this fact and our concerns to state elected leaders."