Wisconsin School Choice Program Ruled Unconstitutional by Judge

MADISON, Wis. (EP) — In a school choice case that is expected to eventually reach the US Supreme Court, a Wisconsin judge ruled that including religious schools in a voucher program violated the constitutional principle of separation of church and state.

Dane County Circuit Judge Paul Higginbotham acknowledged that Milwaukee’s public schools have “performed dismally,” but said that using tax dollars to send poor children to church-affiliated schools was not an acceptable solution. “We do no object to the existence of parochial schools or that they attempt to spread their beliefs through their schools,” he wrote. “They just cannot do it with state tax dollars.”

Higginbotham also struck down an expansion of Wisconsin’s existing voucher program that would have used public funds to help more children attend nonreligious private schools. Higginbotham ruled that there was “no compelling reason” to expand the program beyond its present scope. That ruling will have little effect, since eliminating religious schools from the program made it unlikely that additional children could have found places in private schools.

A quick appeal was promised by a spokesman for Wisconsin’s Gov. Tommy Thompson. “The program is not intended and does not in fact benefit religious institutions. It benefits education, public education, and that’s the test as we see it,” said attorney Ed Marion.

Ohio also has a pilot program for school vouchers in effect. In that program, qualifying Cleveland students can use vouchers to attend the private school of their choice, including church-affiliated schools.

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