Wisconsin Supreme Court refuses to hear lawsuit challenging voucher school program

The Wisconsin Supreme Court declined a case challenging the state's taxpayer-funded private school voucher program in an unsigned, unanimous order — the lawsuit could be refiled in county circuit court.

Associated Press

December 13, 2023

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The words Supreme Court are engraved in a marble sign set into masonry above a door pediment.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court issued an unsigned, unanimous order on Dec. 13, 2023, declining to hear a lawsuit challenging the state's taxpayer-funded private school voucher program. (Credit: PBS Wisconsin)

AP News

By Scott Bauer, AP

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The Wisconsin Supreme Court on Dec. 13 declined to hear a lawsuit brought by Democrats seeking to end the state’s taxpayer-funded private school voucher program.

The lawsuit could be refiled in county circuit court, as both Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ administration and Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos had argued. The Supreme Court rejected it without comment in an unsigned, unanimous order.

Democrats who brought the lawsuit asked the state Supreme Court to take the case directly, which would have resulted in a much faster final ruling than having the case start in lower courts.

Brian Potts, attorney for those challenging the voucher programs, did not reply to a message seeking comment.

Supporters of the voucher programs hailed the court’s rejection of the lawsuit.

The lawsuit “was plagued with misleading, misinformed, and nonsensical legal arguments,” said Rick Esenberg, president of the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty. That group represented private schools, parents of students who attend them and other advocates of the program.

Democrats have argued for decades that the voucher program is a drain on resources that would otherwise go to public schools.

The lawsuit argues that the state’s revenue limit and funding mechanism for voucher school programs and charter schools violate the Wisconsin Constitution’s declaration that public funds be spent for public purposes. It also contends that vouchers defund public schools, do not allow for adequate public oversight and do not hold private schools to the same standards as public schools.

The nation’s first school choice program began in Milwaukee in 1990. Then seen as an experiment to help low-income students in the state’s largest city, the program has expanded statewide and its income restrictions have been loosened. This year, nearly 55,000 students were enrolled.

The lawsuit was filed two months after the state Supreme Court flipped to 4-3 liberal control. But the justices were in agreement on this case, unanimously deciding not to take it up at this point. They offered no comment on the merits of the arguments.

The lawsuit was brought by several Wisconsin residents and is being funded by the liberal Minocqua Brewing Super PAC. Kirk Bangstad, who owns the Minocqua Brewing Co., is a former Democratic candidate for U.S. House and state Assembly.

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