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Appeals Court Rejects Wisconsin School Choice Law

November 13, 1990

MADISON, Wis. (AP) _ State legislators erred when they passed a law that allows poor students in Milwaukee to attend private schools using state funds, an appeals court ruled today.

The 4th District Court of Appeals in Madison said it was unconstitutional because the law was passed as part of the state budget. The court said that violated a provision in the state constitution designed to prevent bills benefiting local interests from being ″smuggled″ through the Legislature.

The court did not directly address the merits of the school choice program.

The program, passed last spring and begun this fall, allows parents to send their children to non-sectarian, private schools with state funds.

The program was authorized to provide a $2,500 stipend each for as many as 1,000 students this year, but only about 400 were able to enroll in about 10 eligible private schools because of space limitations.

The money for the program comes from state aid provided to the Milwaukee Public Schools system, which has about 97,000 students.

The program is the first in the nation to directly provide parents with a voucher to allow them to send their students out of public schools and into private institutions.

Critics charge it undermines public education and benefits only a few while ignoring the majority of students left behind in declining public schools.

Roger Sundby, assistant to state Schools Superintendent Herbert Grover, said the program will continue for at least 30 days to allow for further appeals.

Sundby said the state Department of Public Instruction, which has opposed the program, considered the ruling a victory but would have preferred a ruling on the program’s merits.