The Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL) is suing the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) alleging it violated state law when it selectively released certain school choice test score data to a certain group of people, denying access to others.
“State law is clear,” WILL said. “DPI must release certain types of data on Wisconsin’s school choice programs ‘all at the same time, uniformly, and completely’.”
The lawsuit is the third filed against state Superintendent Carolyn Stanford-Taylor and DPI by WILL since she was appointed by Gov. Tony Evers in January.
On Sept. 11, DPI released school choice data to a select group of members of the media one day before the information was released to the public. By doing so, DPI violated the law, WILL claims, because the law requires that the information be released “all at the same time,” and be “uniform” and “complete.”
WILL is representing School Choice Wisconsin (SCW), Empower Wisconsin journalist Matt Kittle, and WILL’s Research Director, Will Flanders, in the lawsuit.
While Kittle was allowed to participate on a media call with DPI, WILL’s research director, Will Flanders, was denied access. This also violated the law, WILL argues.
“DPI’s selective release of key data makes it difficult for all journalists to do their jobs, and the agency’s failure to provide timely information marks the latest example of less-than-open government in the executive branch,” Kittle said.
“Researchers depend on complete, accurate, and timely information to make critical evaluations about the success or failure of public policy,” Flanders added. “It is deeply frustrating that DPI continues to make our task more difficult, ultimately harming the debate and public discourse in our state.”
DPI communications officer Benson Gardner told The Center Square that DPI publicly released all statewide assessment data on the same day, Sept. 12, and also made the informaton available online.
“The department provided complex assessment data to the news media one day earlier simply to allow them lead-time to write their stories, including in-depth print articles,” Gardner said. “The department followed the law in the public release of this information.”
WILL also takes issue with DPI’s news release, which grouped together the test scores of all Wisconsin school choice students. Yet three parental choice programs are different, WILL argues. The parental choice programs in Milwaukee and Racine have an income threshold of 300 percent of the poverty level, while the Wisconsin program is at 220 percent. Grouping Milwaukee, Racine, and Wisconsin together “is misleading, and an unfair characterization of the choice program,” WILL’s claim argues, which also violated the “uniform” and “complete” requirements stipulated by law.
“State agencies are supposed to act in an objective, predictable and unbiased manner when applying the law,” Jim Bender, president of School Choice Wisconsin, said in a statement. “Unfortunately, the DPI has knowingly released public data with an ideological finger on the scale.”
DPI maintains that it followed the law in the public release of the information.
WILL previously filed lawsuits claiming DPI discriminated against private schools in Wisconsin’s school choice programs.”