Rightwing groups sue state over test score report

    children at school looking at a computer
    Children at school (photo by Lucélia Ribeiro, Creative Commons sharealike 2.0)

    The rightwing Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL) filed a lawsuit on Wednesday against the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI), claiming the agency violated state law by “selectively” releasing data on test scores from charter and private voucher schools. WILL is representing School Choice Wisconsin (SCW), WILL Research Director Will Flanders, and Matt Kittle, who is the executive director of the new conservative advocacy group Empower Wisconsin.

    In the lawsuit, WILL complains that DPI failed to release school data “all at the same time, uniformly, and completely,” by giving media an embargoed press release and holding a press call with reporters to explain data that would be released the next day.

    One of the participants in the press call was talk radio host and rightwing reporter Matt Kittle, who stated in a press release about the launch of Empower Wisconsin that the group “will educate, advocate and mobilize conservative voices with a strong and well-defined issue agenda. In addition, it will develop a network of like-minded organizations at the state and federal levels to maximize the power of our collective efforts.” 

    Former Wisconsin state Rep. Adam Jarchow serves as president of the organization and conservative activist Eric O’Keefe serves as director, and runs the group’s 501(c)3 nonprofit foundation.

    The WILL lawsuit argues that by giving journalists, including Kittle, access to early information about test scores, but denying access to the press call to WILL’s research director, DPI was breaking the law.

    When 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,” the group states.

    WILL also claims that grouping together test-score data for school-voucher students in the statewide program with data on students in Milwaukee and Racine is “misleading, and an unfair characterization of the choice program” that violates the law. 

    DPI responded to the lawsuit with the following statement: “DPI publicly released all statewide assessment data on the same day, September 12, which can be found here

    “The department provided complex assessment data to the news media one day earlier simply to allow them lead-time to write their stories, including in-depth print articles. The department followed the law in the public release of this information.”

    Ruth Conniff
    Ruth Conniff is Editor-in-chief of the Wisconsin Examiner. She formerly served as Editor-in-chief of The Progressive Magazine, and opened the Progressive’s office in Washington, DC, during the Clinton Administration, where she made her debut as a political pundit on CNN’s Capital Gang Sunday and Fox News. She moved to Oaxaca, Mexico, for a year in 2017, where she covered U.S./Mexico relations, the migrant caravan, and Mexico’s efforts to grapple with Donald Trump. Conniff is a frequent guest on All in with Chris Hayes on MSNBC and has appeared on Good Morning America, Democracy Now!, Wisconsin Public Radio, and other radio and television programs. In 2011, she did award-winning coverage of the uprising against Governor Scott Walker in Wisconsin. She has also written for The Nation, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Los Angeles Times, among other publications. Conniff graduated from Yale University in 1990, where she ran track and edited the campus magazine The New Journal.