Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) is requiring all high schools to compile a list of 18-year-old students (and those who will turn 18 by Election Day) and then turn that information over to a liberal activist group in direct violation of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) as well as MPS's own policies prohibiting the release of student information and political activity by staff members. In an email sent to all MPS administrators last week, the District announced the launch of a "new MPS Student Voter Registration plan" designed to "increase voter registration and turnout for the Tuesday, April 4, 2023 spring election."
Administrators are to "generate a list of students who are 18 and who will be eligible to register for and vote" in the upcoming election and add it to the "Voter Registration Data Spring 2023 document that will be shared with principals and College and Career Center (CACC) advisors. The CACC advisor should connect with the League of Women Voters or other community organization [sic] to set up a voter registration event during the registration weeks of February 23 and March 15, 2023."
Neither MPS Superintendent Keith Posley nor the MPS Board of Directors has responded to a request for comment on this plan, which plainly violates MPS policy on both confidential student information and political activity on school time and using school equipment. MPS' employee handbook states that "all student records and information are confidential and may not be used or accessed without authorization." Providing such information to third-party groups such as the League of Women Voters is thus a violation of this policy.
The League of Women Voters claims to be a nonpartisan organization, but its own website belies this, proudly proclaiming that the group has "lobbied for health care policy solutions, including the Affordable Care Act (ACA), to control costs and ensure a basic level of care for all." The Act, also known as Obamacare, was a deeply divisive piece of legislation that passed Congress without a single Republican vote. On illegal immigration, the League says it supports "federal immigration laws that provide efficient, expeditious systems for immigrants to enter the United States" and even "filed an amicus brief with 45 other organizations challenging the Trump Administration’s rescission of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program."
The League of Women Voters is also "mobilizing partners with Planned Parenthood Action Fund in the Bans Off Our Bodies campaign for reproductive justice." As the League's blog notes, "for women and others who experience pregnancy, our basic freedoms hinge on our ability to control our reproductive health. Yet the few choices we have are being taken from us, despite the fact that the majority of Americans support safe and legal abortions."
This is an identical position on the issue to that of liberal Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Janet Protasiewicz, and MPS's voter drive is as a result impermissible political activity. The MPS employee handbook provides that staffers "may contribute to political candidates, either with financial resources or in donation of services, provided donations do not utilize MPS’s equipment, time, or work product." Since this voter drive is being done in conjunction with a liberal organization, it is obviously designed to boost the fortunes of Protasiewicz, the liberal candidate in the race. It is also being planned using MPS email and computers on MPS time.
A far more pressing concern about the registration drive, however, is its apparent violation of 20 USC § 1232g, better known as FERPA. According to the statute, "no [federal] funds shall be made available under any applicable program to any educational agency or institution which has a policy or practice of permitting the release of education records (or personally identifiable information contained therein)." While there are numerous exceptions, providing third-party groups with such student information for the purposes of forming a voter registration database is not among them.
Even if the 18-year-old students (or the parents of 17-year-old students who will turn 18 before Election Day) were to consent to the release of such information to the League of Women Voters, MPS's program remains patently unlawful as it includes the release of personal student information to "other community organization[s]" that are not yet identified. It would thus be impossible for anyone to consent to the release of information without knowing to whom said information is being released