NEWS: Leader of Choice School Denounces Milwaukee Lawsuit

From the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Operators of the Concordia University School lashed back Tuesday against the civil rights groups that accused them of discriminating against children with disabilities.

Tim Young Eagle called the complaint filed with the U.S. Department of Justice a witch-hunt manufactured to stop the expansion of the school choice options in Wisconsin.

School Choice Wisconsin, a nonprofit group that advocates for educational options, also criticized the complaint in a statement Wednesday. Statistics cited by the ACLU undercounted the number of students with special needs who use vouchers to enroll in private schools, the choice organization said.

Young Eagle is the chairman of the board of directors of the Lutheran Urban Mission Initiative, which owns and operates the school in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program.

His denunciation escalates the rhetoric over the school choice expansion proposed by Gov. Scott Walker and approved by the Joint Committee on Finance last week. Under the budget action, the cap limiting the number of students receiving public dollars to attend private schools would be eliminated and the choice option would be extended to the Racine and Green Bay School Districts.

On Tuesday, the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin and two parents filed their complaint with the civil rights division. It alleges the private schools discriminate against children with special education needs by blocking students with disabilities from enrolling, or expelling them after failing to accommodate their disabilities, according to the complaint.

Concordia was named specifically.

The school has roughly 200 students. The ACLU complaint states that all of them receive vouchers from the state, which provides up to $6,442 for their private school tuition.

According to the complaint, the school accepted a 14-year-old girl with a mental health problem – oppositional defiance disorder – then set up a behavioral contract that led to her expulsion.

“No attempt was made on the part of the ACLU to uncover and determine the facts or to discern the truth in the issue referenced in the complaint,” Young Eagle said Tuesday morning. “It is clear that the complaint is a contrived effort on the part of those who are opposed to the expansion of school choice.”

In building its case for discrimination, the ACLU cited the disparity in the number of special needs students enrolled in MPS vs. the private schools participating in the choice program.

Their statistics showed only 1.6% of the 21,000 voucher students have service plans for their special needs. The percentage of students with disability-related plans in Milwaukee Public Schools is nearly 20%, a sign that those students are being segregated in the public schools, according to the ACLU.

School Choice Wisconsin, citing information gathered in the School Choice Demonstrations Project, put the percentage of students with special needs in the choice program at roughly 9%.

It also criticized the ACLU for neglecting to include the funding disparity in its filing.

MPS schools receive about $15,304 in tax dollar support for each student enrolled. Vouchers for students in private schools are $6,442.

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