Vouchers and tuition tax credits, we’re told by those who favor them, will promote “school choice.”
This is true, in a sense. But here’s the harsh reality: It’s the private school that gets the choice, not the parents.
Consider recent developments in Georgia. The Peach State has adopted a program that has also popped up in other states: Individuals and corporations donate money to non-profit groups that in turn grant “scholarships” (a euphemism for vouchers) for tuition at religious and other private schools. The individual or person then receives a large tax credit for the donation.
This convoluted scheme has caught on in states like Georgia that have constitutions that bar direct taxpayer aid to private schools. It’s essentially a money-laundering scheme. The end result is to shift resources away from public schools and into private schools, most of them religious.
The idea was pitched as a way to empower parents by giving them more choices in education. But parents are quickly finding out that “choice” is an illusion. If the private schools don’t want your child, a stack of “scholarships” a mile high won’t get him or her in the door.
And one reason the school might not want your child is if she is gay, is questioning her sexuality, has gay friends or has same-sex parents.
The Southern Education Foundation recently issued a report noting that at least 115 religious schools in Georgia have policies that are anti-gay. In these schools, students who are gay (or even perceived to be gay) can be immediately expelled – no questions asked, no appeals process.
The report lists the following examples:
* Cherokee Christian Schools in Woodstock has a policy that states, “In accordance with the Statement of Faith and in recognition of Biblical principles, no ‘immoral act’ or ‘identifying statements’ concerning fornication, adultery, homosexuality, lesbianism, bisexuality, or pornography, will be tolerated. Such behavior will constitute grounds for expulsion….”
* Providence Christian Academy in Lilburn says it will expel or deny admission to any student for “participating in, promoting, supporting, or condoning pornography, sexual immorality, homosexual activity, or bisexual activity; or … displaying an inability or resistance to support the Academy’s Biblical interpretation of the qualities and characteristics required of a Biblically-based and Christ-like lifestyle.”
* Augusta Christian School’s policy reads, “Each student of the school shall be of the highest moral character and be obedient to all Biblical principles, including, but not limited to, prohibitions against fornication, drug use, alcohol use, pornography and homosexuality…The school reserves the right to dismiss any student with or without cause.”
Steve Suitts, Southern Education Foundation vice president and author of the report, told The New York Times that tax money is being used to subsidize institutions that “punish, denounce and even demonize students in the name of religion solely because they are gay, state that they are homosexual, happen to have same-sex parents or guardians, or express support or tolerance for gay students at school, away from school or at home.”
Private schools, of course, have the right to maintain policies like this – no matter how distasteful they may be. But their bigotry should not receive even one dime of taxpayer support, directly or indirectly.
Unfortunately, this trend may be spreading. Legislators in Indiana and Wisconsin are considering expanding voucher plans already operating in those states, and Tennessee lawmakers are considering adopting a plan. Other states may take up the matter as well.
Since the vast majority of private schools are religiously affiliated, vouchers force taxpayers to subsidize faiths not their own. They also pose a serious threat to the very survival of the public school system. (These plans are often put forth by privatization zealots who despise the public school system.)
As recent events in Georgia prove, such plans subsidize outright bigotry with tax funds. This is often an overlooked aspect of the voucher debate. It shouldn’t be. We’re striving to create a fairer, more equitable nation for all. Plowing public funds into schools that engage in open, rank forms of discrimination is completely contrary to that goal.