The News: The Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL) filed a lawsuit today against the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) for violating state law when the agency selectively released certain school choice test score data in September. WILL is representing School Choice Wisconsin (SCW), Empower Wisconsin journalist Matt Kittle, and WILL’s Research Director Will Flanders.

The Lawsuit: State law is clear: certain types of data on Wisconsin’s school choice programs must be released “all at the same time, uniformly, and completely.” There are no exceptions. But on September 11, DPI chose to violate this straightforward law by releasing incomplete and misleading school choice data to a select media list a day before the September 12 public release.

DPI violated the law in three critical ways:

  • DPI released incomplete data on the school choice program to the news media, including journalist Matt Kittle, on September 11 – a day before the public release. This violated the law’s “all at the same time,” “uniform,” and “complete” requirements.
  • When WILL and WILL Research Director Will Flanders were denied the ability to participate in the September 11 press call, this violated the law’s “all at the same time,” “uniform,” and “complete” requirements.
  • DPI grouped the test scores of all Wisconsin choice students together in their press release. But Wisconsin’s three parental choice programs are different. The parental choice programs in Milwaukee and Racine have an income threshold of 300% of the poverty line, while the Wisconsin program is at 220%. Grouping Milwaukee, Racine, and Wisconsin together is misleading, and an unfair characterization of the choice program that violated the “uniform” and “complete” requirements.

This case marks the third time this year State Superintendent Carolyn Stanford-Taylor has been sued by WILL for violating state law. Stanford-Taylor is Governor Tony Evers’ hand-picked successor at the Department of Public Instruction – taking over in January 2019. WILL’s lawsuit reminds state agencies and unelected bureaucrats, once again, that they are accountable to state law.

The Quotes: Jim Bender, President of School Choice Wisconsin said, “State agencies are supposed to act in an objective, predictable and unbiased manner when applying the law. Unfortunately, the DPI has knowingly released public data with an ideological finger on the scale.”

WILL Research Director Will Flanders said, “Researchers depend on complete, accurate, and timely information to make critical evaluations about the success or failure of public policy. It is deeply frustrating that DPI continues to make our task more difficult, ultimately harming the debate and public discourse in our state.”

Matt Kittle, Executive Director of Empower Wisconsin said, “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.”

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