A Wisconsin judge has prevented Milwaukee's school vouchers program from including parochial schools or expanding to include thousands of additional students.
"We do not object to the existence of parochial schools or that they attempt to spread their beliefs through the schools," Dane County (Wis.) Circuit Court Judge Paul Higginbotham said in his January 15 ruling. "They just cannot do it with state tax dollars."
The judge left intact the current program, which includes 1,650 students in nonreligious private schools, granting that " 'school choice' may in fact be sound public policy, especially considering the sad plight of the Milwaukee Public Schools system." Whether it is sound policy, he said, is a question best left to the legislature.
"We do not oppose the current program per se," says Steve Green of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, which cosponsored the lawsuit against the program with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). "But there is always the concern that nonsectarian programs like this will be expanded to become sectarian."
APPEAL FILED: Voucher advocates, including Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson, have taken their cause to the Wisconsin Court of Appeals and hope to reach the state supreme court by summer. Whatever happens, the ruling likely will end up as a test case before the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court has heard the case before. A year ago the court granted an injunction against expanding the program, but deadlocked 3 to 3 on the inclusion of religious schools, sending the case to Higginbotham.
Pete Hutchison, a lawyer for Landmark Legal Defense Foundation, a public-interest law firm in Kansas City, Missouri, says that if the state supreme court hears the case, ...1