In 2011, the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation, and Disability Rights Wisconsin filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) Civil Rights Division, charging that the voucher system operates in a discriminatory manner by failing to accept, serve and accommodate students with disabilities. The complaint was filed against the State of Wisconsin, the Department of Public Instruction and two voucher schools.

Managing Attorney Monica Murphy from Disability Rights Wisconsin stated: “Our complaint outlined how families were told not to apply to voucher schools because the schools indicated they could not serve them, and how other children with disabilities, once enrolled in a voucher school, did not receive the supports and accommodations they required.”

“The failure of voucher schools to serve children with disabilities has also led to increased concentration of children with disabilities within the public school system – while the voucher funding formula takes money from public schools, leaving them with fewer resources to serve these  children,” added Karyn Rotker, senior staff attorney with the ACLU of Wisconsin.

The U.S. DOJ affirmed in 2013 that Wisconsin must ensure that students with disabilities who seek to attend or are currently enrolled in private schools through the state’s taxpayer-funded voucher program “do not encounter discrimination on the basis of their disabilities.”

This victory firmly establishes that the Americans with Disabilities Act applies to voucher programs, with potentially far-reaching impact across the country.