The Daily Signal

Opinion: Wisconsin Supreme Court Rejects Anti-Choice Position on Schooling

December 28, 2023

(The Daily Signal)—Liberal activist Kirk Bangstad’s Minocqua Brewing Co. SuperPAC on Oct. 12 filed a petition with the Wisconsin Supreme Court that sought to dismantle the state’s popular school choice programs and shutter the state’s independent charter schools.

Bangstad hired international law firm Perkins Coie LLP—armed with more than $1 billion in revenue and 1,120 attorneys—to take on 60,000 low- and middle-income Wisconsin families benefiting from those school choice programs.

Yet, despite a bottomless war chest and a newly Democrat-leaning judiciary, the Wisconsin Supreme Court unceremoniously dismissed Bangstad’s petition on Dec. 13 in a unanimous order.

My organization—the Liberty Justice Center—filed an amicus brief in the case and praised the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s decision to uphold school choice.

But what if Bangstad’s campaign had succeeded?

In an explosive report by the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, Will Flanders analyzed data from Wisconsin’s Department of Public Instruction and revealed that the sudden tidal wave of new students displaced by the end of school choice would have overwhelmed the state’s public schools, severely compromising the quality of education available to Wisconsin students.

For example, the Milwaukee Public Schools would have gone from a surplus of more than 20,000 seats to a deficit of more than 17,000—necessitating the immediate purchase or construction of at least 17 new school buildings. Likewise, to maintain its current student-teacher ratio, Milwaukee Public Schools would have needed to hire almost 2,400 additional teachers—a nearly 57% increase in its current teaching staff.

Those numbers are particularly daunting when considering that the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction is already facing a drastic teacher shortage, having recently tripled the number of emergency teaching licenses issued in the state.

Even Bangstad’s lawyers were compelled to “recognize” that dismantling school choice in Wisconsin would “impact tens of thousands of children,” but they nevertheless tried to justify their lawsuit by noting that their client “feel[s] that” the benefit to children currently attending traditional public schools “outweighs the negative impacts to the children currently benefiting from these [school choice] programs.” As Flanders’ analysis shows, however, these “feelings” were not grounded in reality.

This lawsuit would have been a death knell not only for the school choice programs despised by the establishment, but also for the traditional public schools Bangstad claims to support.

Unfortunately, Bangstad is not alone in his rabid campaign against school choice. Lawsuits are currently pending before the Supreme Courts of South Carolina and Oklahoma attempting to thwart those states’ nascent expansions of educational options for kids.

In Texas, teachers unions successfully lobbied the Legislature to kill a school choice bill—one that would have increased their own teacher members’ salaries at public schools—just to ensure that students are left without other educational options.

And, most shamefully, a feckless state Legislature and governor in Illinois bent to the will of a teacher union’s president—one whose own child attends private school—by allowing the Illinois Invest in Kids program to expire, effectively kicking 9,600 low-income students out of their preferred schools.

Wisconsin students and families are fortunate that their state Supreme Court stood firm on their behalf. Public officials in all states should follow their lead and stand with kids—not with special interests.

Dean McGee is the educational freedom attorney for the Liberty Justice Center, a Chicago-based public interest law firm.