Today We Launch the Effort To End Wisconsin's Parasitic School Voucher System

Today We Launch the Effort To End Wisconsin's Parasitic School Voucher System

Protesters against Act 10, Governor Scott Walker's legislation that decimated Wisconsin's Public Schools in 2011

Protesters against Act 10, Governor Scott Walker's legislation that decimated Wisconsin's Public Schools in 2011.

Hello Friends,
I consider the email I’m writing today one of the most consequential things I’ve done in my life, and the start of the most important project that the Minocqua Brewing Company Super PAC has taken on since our inception in 2021.
Today is the beginning of our legal effort to end Wisconsin’s parasitic private-school voucher system.
With the help of your donations many months ago, the Minocqua Brewing Company Super PAC put together a team of lawyers who came up with a legal strategy to challenge school vouchers under the Wisconsin Constitution. In this email, I’m going to preview that strategy and introduce you to a few members of the team that will execute it.
Our first legal claim will raise the Wisconsin Constitution’s “public purpose requirement,” which says that “public funds can only be used for public purposes.”
Although legal historians will note that the Wisconsin Supreme Court rejected a similar challenge to Milwaukee’s voucher program in a 1992 case called Davis v. Grover, at the time the court considered the voucher program to be “experimental.” In the 30 years since that decision, the facts on the ground have changed.
Voucher programs are no longer experimental; they have ballooned and become entrenched throughout Wisconsin. As a result, our legal team believes that this decision should not serve as legal precedent to uphold the voucher programs in their current form.
A second claim will likely arise under the Wisconsin Constitution’s Uniform Taxation Clause. More than 40 years ago, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled that the state can’t take one school district’s property taxes and distribute them to another school district. But state education officials have admitted that—because of the Rube Goldberg mechanism used to siphon taxpayer funds to the voucher program—it’s “as though the choice/voucher expansion is funded statewide with property taxes.”

These legal claims will be driven by a core set of facts. Some will relate to how voucher schools are sapping public schools of their resources. Others will describe how taxpayer-funded voucher schools—unlike public schools—do not have to comply with core educational standards and have virtually no obligation to provide basic services to students with disabilities.

Collectively, these facts and circumstances reinforce that Wisconsin’s voucher programs are (1) subsidizing private schools while undermining public schools, and (2) creating a two-tiered system of state-funded education—in which taxpayer-funded voucher schools are neither accountable to the state nor otherwise required to meet its basic educational goals.

Given these well-documented developments, we will argue that Wisconsin’s courts, in 2023, can no longer uphold the voucher programs under the Wisconsin Constitution.

Ok, so that’s a bird's-eye view of the strategy.

Here are the leaders of the team that will make the case to Wisconsin’s courts:

Our voucher lawsuit legal team will be led by Washington DC-based attorney Greg Lipper (a partner at Legrand Law PLLC, a litigation boutique); Madison-based attorney Brian Potts of Perkins Coie, a large national law firm; and Minocqua-based attorney Frederick Melms, currently working for the Minocqua Brewing Company Super PAC.  Here is what they each bring to the table.

Greg Lipper (LeGrand Law PLLC)

  • Greg is an experienced trial and appellate litigator, who has tried cases in front of judges, juries, and agencies and argued more than 2 dozen appeals
  • He served as senior litigation counsel for more than 5 years at a national civil liberties organization, where he represented parties or amici challenging voucher programs in five different states
  • He is an expert in constitutional law, who has filed briefs in dozens of U.S. Supreme Court cases—including school-voucher and tax-credit cases—and has written and lectured widely on a wide range of constitutional issues and cases

Brian Potts (Perkins Coie)

  • Brian is a partner at Perkins Coie, a top-50 national law firm, and is one of the top litigators in Wisconsin
  • He has handled numerous constitutional cases in state and federal courts
  • He was part of the team that helped thwart Donald Trump’s attempt to overturn Wisconsin’s 2020 election results

Frederick Melms

  • Fred, a native of Wausau WI, has focused his career on protecting the constitutional rights of the marginalized and underprivileged.
  • He gained national prominence as the attorney responsible for bringing our Super PAC's lawsuits against anti-masking school boards.

Along with these three attorneys, we’re consulting with experts on Wisconsin schools, including the Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC), to ensure that we have the most up-to-date information needed to build our case.

Now this is where I ask you for money.

I believe this lawsuit, at the very least, will cost $200K.  The team has told me that the suit will consist of the following initial steps, and each of these steps will cost a certain amount.  Here is our near-term estimate.

  1. Meeting with clients + researching and preparing the initial legal complaint - $25K
  2. Filing briefs and motions in circuit court and, if necessary, appearing in court for a trial on a request for a preliminary injunction - $75K
  3. Briefing and arguing the legal issues in Wisconsin’s appellate courts, including the Wisconsin Supreme Court - $100K.

Of course, litigation costs are hard to predict. $200K is a conservative estimate. Depending on how our opponents litigate the case and who else tries to get involved, the initial phase in circuit court could involve even more work and cost even more money. Because our team includes a partner at a large law firm, we’re confident that we will have enough lawyers to do all this work. But if this happens, it will blow the costs of this suit way beyond $200K. There’s really no way to tell at this point if that will happen, but I truly believe there are enough groups that care about ending the school voucher program in Wisconsin that will partner with us if we need to find more money down the road.

Now obviously, $200K is a lot of money. But there are now 110K of you on this email list, and 82K folks who follow the Minocqua Brewing Company Facebook page, and you’ve collectively donated over $1.1 million to our many other efforts over the last two years, with donations averaging ~$40.  I think we can accomplish this righteous goal together as a large group of people who want what's best for our kids. If you agree with me, please donate what you can here.

As I mentioned many months ago in an essay that thanked the wonderful public school teachers I had in Stevens Point who laid the ground work for me to thrive at Harvard University and beyond, I want Wisconsin kids to have the same opportunities that I had in the ‘80s and ‘90s.

Republican Governor Scott Walker decimated our publics schools by passing Act 10 in 2011, and Republican Majority Leader Robin Vos has continued to attack them ever since

These guys don’t care about educating Wisconsin's kids. They only care about the folks who get rich off of private schools with your property tax dollars, because those are the same folks who keep them in power by filling up their campaign coffers.

Wisconsinites have never had a lot in terms of material wealth, but we used to have one of the best public education systems in the country. We had pride in our public schools and were willing to pay more in taxes so that ALL of our children could get ahead in life.

We will get there again, but it starts by ending the private school voucher system that has taken that local pride away from us. Thanks for your help in getting this lawsuit off the ground, and thanks for believing in my team to get the job done.

Together, we will get Wisconsin’s PRIDE AND JOY back, one beer at a time.
Kirk Bangstad
Owner, Minocqua Brewing Company
Founder, Minocqua Brewing Company Super PAC

Again, please donate what you can here to launch this lawsuit

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