Feb. 28, 2023
Perspective by George Mitchell
Wisconsin’s school choice programs are on the ballot April 4.
That will come as news to parents of the approximate 50,000 students who are enrolled in those programs. However, the threat posed by the Supreme Court candidacy of Janet Protasiewicz is real.
A majority of Wisconsin voters support the choice programs that let low-income and working class families enroll their children in private schools. Participating students outscore public schools students on the college readiness ACT test. Urban choice students lead safer and more crime-free lives after graduation.
Far too many advocates of these programs believe the days when they were threatened in court are history. This is unwarranted. The complacency needs to be replaced by a clear understanding of what’s at risk if activists on the Left win a majority on April 4.
Clint Bolick, a Justice on the Arizona Supreme Court, represented Wisconsin parents on numerous legal challenges in the 1990s. These culminated in a 1998 victory — by the margin of a SINGLE VOTE — when the Wisconsin Supreme Court upheld the program. Four years later Bolick was a leader of the legal team that prevailed in a U.S. Supreme Court case involving an Ohio program. More recently, the U.S. Supreme Court has provided further protection by invalidating provisions in many state constitutions used to exclude religious schools.
I recently asked Bolick if choice programs are now safe from legal assaults. Definitely not, he said.
Bolick explained that state constitutions, such as Wisconsin’s, contain many provisions involving K-12 education. He noted that Wisconsin’s original program, which excluded religious schools, nevertheless was challenged based on other provisions. Those challenges all failed, but, again, ONLY BY A SINGLE VOTE.
Bolick confirmed that nothing would prevent the anti-school choice Left from renewing attacks in court. However flimsy these might be, the current minority faction on Wisconsin’s high court has demonstrated no reluctance to bypass sound constitutional principles if they conflict with liberal policy goals. Most importantly, as Bolick explained, there would be no recourse to the U.S. Supreme Court if Wisconsin’s court relied on state constitutional provisions to unravel school choice programs.
Janet Protasiewicz has made it abundantly clear that the words “settled law” are not in her dictionary. She substitutes her “values” for the independent and impartial standards expected of the judiciary. If given the opportunity, no one can doubt that she would join a flipped court majority in welcoming a challenge to parent school choice.
George Mitchell is a volunteer at School Choice Wisconsin. He first became active in the school choice movement in the 1980s. For a 49ers fan, he’s okay.