Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman was a big proponent of school choice – the radical idea that kids and their families were better suited to choosing which school to attend than the school board leaders of the surrounding communities. This proposition has not been ubiquitously applied in all communities across the U.S., however we have started to see the emergence of such programs over the past couple years thanks to individual state initiatives (and in the face of heavy legal blowback from teachers unions).
One such state is Wisconsin, where the town of Madison’s Racine Unified School District had reportedly allowed private “Renaissance Schools” following the school choice model to circumvent its typical limitations on private school children’s transportation via its own bus system. In other words, private school attendees, working through a school choice voucher program, had been given permission by their local school district to ride its buses to their respective school locations every morning, just like their public school counterparts. But just this week, the news broke that the district has apparently had a change of heart, now denying these “Renaissance kids” a ride for the remainder of the school semester, starting next month.
The aforementioned limitations typically applied to private schools in the district include a deadline (May 15th of the previous year) for when such institutions can petition for their students to utilize Racine’s transportation service for the upcoming year. Renaissance Schools’ founder, Frank Trecroci, claims that this due date was waived in his schools’ favor due to recognition of the voucher program, and maintains that it is “unfair to the students and the families” for the offer to be rescinded this late in the year considering the weather conditions. Stacy Tapp, a spokeswoman for the Racine school district, contests Trecroci’s accusations, and says that his school neglected to properly petition for each of its students individually by the accepted date.
Tapp cites Wisconsin state law, which states that private schools “shall notify each school board of the names, grade levels and locations” of any and all participating students by May 15th, in order to have buses work out their routes to include said students and their respective schools. While that is true, the issue here is why did the school district proceed to efficiently transport these students from Renaissance for the majority of the school year before abruptly changing its tune, and accusing Trecroci of not properly following the rules? According to Trecroci himself, the act is one of retaliation. After all, Renaissance Schools is one of the fastest-growing voucher-based school systems in the state, and could pose serious competition to the assigned public schools within the Racine district in the years to follow.
The Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL) is a local public interest law firm now representing the parents of the Renaissance kids in what looks to be a court-bound issue between the involved parties. As WILL has revealed, the original plan by the Racine district was to stop bus service to the students immediately, but the threat was since relegated to the beginning on next month, and, once WILL got involved, a small severance package ($150) sent to each plaintiff so that their children can perhaps find funding for alternate transportation. WILL’s educational policy director, CJ Szafir, says that’s still not good enough, and plans to take Racine to task for taking out their dispute with Renaissance on “innocent children and parents.”
But most startling of all (and, arguably, what reveals the contradictory and superfluous nature of these laws in the first place) is the fact that, according to Szafir, Racine would still be violating state law every bit as much as the Renaissance administration if it continues to refuse the children transportation without any alternatives in place.: “If they do not transport these children, it would be a blatant violation of state law, which mandates that school districts provide for transportation for children in the district whether they attend private school or public school.” One thing is for sure: resistance or no, school choice is coming to America in a big way, and stories like this one will only help further its positive exposure.