Sheila Kennedy has a good post on legislation to be introduced by Rep. Forestal (I can’t currently find the bill listed under the list of bills he’s involved with.) The legislation has to do with preventing discrimination by private schools that operate with public money — particularly having in mind the Roncalli situation where the school fired an otherwise qualified guidance counselor because she’s married to a woman. The school says this violates their religious beliefs.
Pro-voucher legislators say that they want to improve kids’ educations by giving them a choice. They want to improve schools by unleashing market forces and competition. They want to help poor kids access alternative to the failing public schools they are in. That was more persuasive before the voucher policy was actually put in place. Now we know that a lot of the money goes to kids who never went to public school in the first place — let alone were stuck in a failing school. Voucher don’t improve educational outcomes. If anything, they harm those outcomes. What’s really going on is that pro-voucher legislators want to: a) hurt the teacher’s unions; b) re-direct education money to friends and well-wishers; and c) subsidize religious education. Forestal’s bill, as described, would target item “c.”
The bill that Representative Forestal proposes to introduce addresses another glaring defect of the voucher program: the lack of standards imposed on participating schools.
A colleague and I recently surveyed voucher programs operating around the U.S., in order to see whether any of those programs required participating schools to teach civics. You will probably not be surprised to learn that none did. I’m relatively confident that if we conducted a follow-up survey, we would be equally unable to find programs imposing non-discrimination requirements. Any nondiscrimination requirements, not just those protective of LGBTQ students and faculty.
There is something very disturbing about taking money away from our public schools and sending it to religious schools without attaching any meaningful conditions. Taxpayers may well be funding schools that teach creationism, that refuse to teach evolution, and that discriminate against students and faculty members who violate tenets of their theologies. (In Louisiana, schools participating in that state’s voucher program were found to be doing all of these things.)
I hope such legislation moves forward, but doubt it will. Pro-voucher legislators likely view permitting such discrimination as more of a feature than a bug. One of the main purposes of voucher legislation was to subsidize this kind of thing.