A nonpartisan journalism project called Wisconsin Watch released an alarming report about voucher schools that openly discriminate against LGBT students and students with disabilities. State law requires them to admit all who apply but not to enroll those from these disfavored groups.

State law for public schools prohibits discrimination on these very same grounds. In other words, public schools may not discriminate against these two groups, but publicly-funded voucher schools may and do.

Among the voucher schools, discrimination against gay students and families is usually on religious grounds. Voucher schools may exclude students with disabilities for any reason, such as lack of staff or resources.

Wisconsin has funds 52,000 students in 373 private voucher schools, or 6% of all students in publicly funded schools. This year the state spent $444 million on vouchers. “About one-fifth of voucher schools have 90% or more of their students on vouchers, what one scholar describes as “private in name only.” Republicans want to expand voucher availability by removing any limits, so that public funds underwrite tuition for rich kids.

Wisconsin is considered the birthplace of the “school choice” movement. The nation’s first publicly funded private voucher program began in Milwaukee in 1990. Initial restrictions, such as limiting vouchers to secular schools, have disappeared as the program has expanded. Today, 32 schools — including at least one with an anti-LGBTQ+ stance — have their entire student bodies on publicly funded vouchers.

Legal discrimination against students who are LGBTQ+ or have disabilities results from a lack of state-level protections; a federal exemption that allows religious entities to discriminate against LGBTQ+ students and another that requires schools taking federal funds to make only minor adjustments for students with disabilities; and a state education agency constrained by punctilious rules and decades of litigation.

One of the cardinal goals of publicly-funded education is equal opportunity for all. In voucher schools, it’s equal opportunity for some. We are reminded once again that “school choice” means SCHOOLS CHOOSE.