Report: state goes beyond the law on private school standards


Lewis Carroll’s surreal masterpiece “Through the Looking Glass” definitely belongs in Milwaukee schools.

But not as a guide to setting accountability standards for private schools that accept vouchers.

In the book, Humpty Dumpty (the egg with balance problems) tells Alice (in Wonderland again) he doesn’t care if a word doesn’t mean what he thinks it does.

“‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.’”

Judging by a new report from the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, Humpty Dumpty would approve of the Department of Public Instruction’s approach to evaluating private schools in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program.

HUMPTY DUMPTY GOES TO SCHOOL: A new report shows what the Department of Public Instruction has in common with the famous egg.

Each year, DPI requires those schools to select one of four accountability standards set by state law on which to be judged.

But as the report documents, the law actually mandates schools be judged on all four standards.

And if DPI decides the school hasn’t met the single standard it was required to select, the school’s “participation in the program will be terminated if the selected standard is not met,” regardless of how well it did on the other three standards.

But what the law actually says is that the superintendent of public instruction “may” drop a school from the MPCP if it fails to meet all four standards.

The report explains the important legal difference between “will” and “may.”

“In other words, the Superintendent must exercise discretion in choosing to drop schools out of the choice program, and this discretionary decision must be based on facts, taken on a case-by-case basis.”

DPI’s approach of making “four” mean “one” and “may” mean “will” results in DPI imposing stricter requirements on private schools in the MPCP than state law actually does.

And those requirements are much stricter than any DPI imposes on public schools.

Still, as the report points out, many people believe private schools in the MPCP are held to lower and laxer standards than public schools.

Contact Paul Brennan at