Wisconsin school choice supporters promise to fight lawsuit

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(The Center Square) – Several groups promised to fight a new lawsuit that challenges school choice in Wisconsin.

Kirk Bangstad, the owner of the Minocqua Brewing, last week filed a lawsuit that accuses Wisconsin’s voucher programs of harming public schools in the state.

“At the core of the issue lies the voucher school financing system, which appears to be designed more to harm school districts than to support voucher programs. The impact of this financing scheme has been devastating to Wisconsin’s school districts,” Brian Potts, an attorney on the case, said in a statement.

Bangstad is challenging school choice based on Wisconsin’s Constitution

“The revenue limit and funding schemes for voucher school programs and independent charter schools violate the Wisconsin Constitution’s Public-Purpose Requirement and the Uniform Taxation Clause,” Potts said. “This parasitic funding system is pushing public school districts into an ever-worsening financial crisis, which is leading to what can only be described as a funding death spiral for public education.”

He has support for his suit. Wisconsin State Superintendent of Schools Jill Underly said she agreed with Bangstad that school choice in Wisconsin hurts public schools.

“Public education is a constitutional right. It says it right there in Article X, Section 3 of the Wisconsin Constitution. And as a right guaranteed to our children, and as an opportunity for our state to put our money where our priorities should be, Wisconsin needs to fulfill its responsibility to effectively, equitably and robustly fund our public education system,” Underly said.

A chorus of school choice advocates, free market reformers and others then immediately promised to fight the lawsuit.

“If successful, [these] efforts would destroy a popular program that serves thousands of Wisconsin families, dismantling Wisconsin’s education system, all to serve a purely political purpose,” Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty President and General Counsel Rick Esenberg said. “Their so-called ‘facts’ are misleading, misinformed and it has caused their legal argument to fall far short. WILL stands ready to oppose their efforts and mount a staunch defense of the program in the court of law.”

While the lawsuit claims school choice hurts Wisconsin’s traditional public schools, School Choice Wisconsin President Nicholas Kelly says ending the voucher programs would hurt low-income students.

“Efforts to kill school choice will hurt thousands of low-income families throughout the state. In Milwaukee and Racine, where four out of five choice students are Black and Hispanic, this would fall most heavily on families desperate for educational options,” Kelly said.

This is not Bangstad’s first lawsuit dealing with schools in Wisconsin. During the COVID-19 pandemic, he was looking for plaintiffs to sue to enforce mask mandates and keep schools in the state closed.

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