The state agency in charge of schools is selectively releasing data, a new lawsuit alleges, in an effort to hide the effectiveness of charter and voucher schools.

The lawsuit, filed by the Wisconsin Institute of Law & Liberty (WILL), claims the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) is not following state law with its alleged attempts to only release misleading data to friendly media ahead of full release of school performance data.

“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,” WILL said in a press release announcing the lawsuit. “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.”

WILL is representing School Choice Wisconsin, Empower Wisconsin and WILL Research Director Will Flanders. The lawsuit alleges three violations of the law:

  • 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.
  • 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.

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

Jim Bender, President of School Choice Wisconsin, agreed with Flanders.

“State agencies are supposed to act in an objective, predictable and unbiased manner when applying the law,” Bender said. “Unfortunately, the DPI has knowingly released public data with an ideological finger on the scale.”

In an interview with the Wisconsin State Journal, a spokesman for DPI claimed that “miscommunication” was the cause of the partial release of data, although she did not have an explanation why the data was only released to certain media outlets.

(RightWisconsin, which was on the DPI media release list during the previous administration, did not receive any communication from DPI regarding test scores when other media outlets received it.)

This is the third time WILL has sued DPI under Superintendent of Public Instruction Carolyn Stanford-Taylor. WILL filed suits again the schools superintendent in February and March. Stanford-Taylor was appointed by Governor Tony Evers after he left DPI to become governor in January.

You can read the entire complaint by WILL at their website.