The U.S. Justice Department has closed a more than four year investigation into Milwaukee’s private school voucher program.
The probe, launched in 2011, was sparked by complaints from the ACLU and Disability Rights Wisconsin, which argued schools in the program were either not admitting or expelling disabled students. It prompted calls from the federal government in 2013 for the Department of Public Instruction to provide more oversight of the program and to ensure those with disabilities were not being discriminated against. However, officials with DPI indicated at the time that the agency lacked the authority to take the actions ordered by the federal government.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports the DOJ sent a letter to the state last month, notifying them that the investigation is now closed.
In a statement, School Choice Wisconsin president Jim Bender praised the end of what he described as a “secretive investigation” that’s gone on for over four years. “The DOJ has now reaffirmed what the DPI stated all the way back in 2011 – there is no record of the school choice programs in Wisconsin discriminating against students with special needs,” he said.
The decision to end the investigation drew some criticism though. Sen. Chris Larson, a Milwaukee Democrat, pinned some of the lack of further findings on the fact that “due to the lack of accountability within the program, these schools were not obligated to provide much of the data needed to fully investigate claims of discrimination.”
Larson, who is running for Milwaukee County executive, said the legislature should be working to ensure that DPI “has adequate authority to obtain the data necessary to evaluate the treatment of students with disabilities within all schools receiving public resources.”