Indiana House Republicans lined up four-square in favor of discrimination last week. They rejected a proposal to prohibit private schools that receive state funding from discriminating against students and staff because of disability, sexual orientation or gender identification.
The House voted 62-33 against the proposal, offered by Rep. Dan Forestal as an amendment to House Bill 1641, which deals with charter school issues. Sixty-two Republicans voted against it. Voting in favor were 32 Democrats and one brave Republican, Rep. Sean Eberhart of Shelbyville.
The proposal was sparked by controversy over Indianapolis Roncalli High School’s suspension of longtime counselor Shelly Fitzgerald after school officials discovered she was married to a woman. Roncalli has been receiving about $1.5 million per year in voucher funding. Indiana spent $154 million last year on tuition vouchers for private schools, nearly all of which are religious schools.
Forestal, a Roncalli graduate, said voucher schools shouldn’t be able to use their state funding for practices that exclude students and employees. Current state law says voucher schools can’t discriminate in student admissions or discipline because of race, ethnicity or national origin, but it allows discrimination for sexual orientation, gender identity, disability and religion.
The debate on Forestal’s amendment reportedly was heated, with opponents upset that the state would dictate policies that conflict with religious teachings. But that’s not what this is about. Private and religious schools may, in some cases, discriminate on religious grounds. They just shouldn’t get state funding.
Sen. J.D. Ford has introduced Senate legislation, Senate Bill 344, that would bar voucher schools from discriminating. But it hasn’t been scheduled for a committee hearing, and it doesn’t look like it will be.