A West Allis family is being denied the right to send their children to the school of their choice by the state agency in charge of education, and they’re suing to change the policy.

The Olguin family has three sons, with two of them attending a school in the Wisconsin Parental Choice Program. When it came time to apply for the third child, the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) said they made $47 too much to participate in the program. As a result, only one child may remain in the program while the oldest and the youngest will have to attend public schools or the Olguins will have to bear the cost of tuition.

The Olguin family attempted to amend their financial statements but, unlike other government programs, DPI has a “one and done” rule that only allows one application per academic year. The school, Heritage Christian Schools, also appealed but the appeal was denied.

The Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL) filed suit on behalf of the Olguins, Heritage Christian Schools and School Choice Wisconsin Action (SCWA) to get the “one and done” policy overturned.

“I cried for two days because financially it is going to be a humongous hit to us,” Katrina Olguin said in an op-ed by Cori Petersen of WILL. “And it’s even more sad that it’s two of my kids.”

When Olguin applied in February, DPI used the family’s 2019 tax return to determine the family’s income. That put the family $47 above the allowable income threshold, 220% of the federal poverty level. Olguin amended her return to include a contribution to a Roth IRA, bringing her income to the appropriate level, but DPI would not let her re-submit her application.

“DPI’s job is to facilitate education in Wisconsin,” said Lucas Vebber, deputy counsel for WILL. “But too often DPI finds ways to work against families and schools in the parental choice program.”

Because the Wisconsin Parental Choice Program only allows students to enroll in the school choice program in kindergarten, 1st, and 9th grade, the oldest child may never be allowed to attend Heritage Christian Schools with the state voucher paying the tuition. The only option for the Olguins would be for the oldest child to switch schools from a private school to a public school and then back again.

“State law allows eligible parents, through geography and income requirements, to be able to participate in the program,” said Terry Brown, Chairman of School Choice Wisconsin Action. “But the convoluted process by which DPI denies many eligible families access each year is at conflict with both legislative intent and rational thought.”

In the op-ed by Petersen, Olguin said the lawsuit was not just about her family.

“My whole purpose in this is that I don’t want any family to have to go through this big change, like take a kid out of school, because at that one moment when you applied you didn’t have your financial paperwork together,” Olguin said.

In other school choice news:

St. Maria Goretti School in Madison is suing the Madison Metropolitan School District over the school district’s refusal to supply busing for students that would allow them to get to school on time. For the 2020-21 school year, the district’s buses would bring the students to school 70 minutes after school starts.

State law requires school districts to provide transportation for students attending private schools equivalent to what is provided to students attending the public schools in the district.

“The District ensures that all of its students receive busing that allows them to arrive at school reasonably before the start of their school day,” said Fr. Scott Emerson, parochial administrator of St. Maria Goretti Church and head of St. Maria Goretti School. “Why should St. Maria Goretti’s students be treated anydifferently? Indeed, so far as we are aware, St. Maria Goretti is the only school that the District has attempted to treat in this manner for the upcoming term.” 

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