It’s great that the firing of gay teachers by Indiana Catholic schools is generating national attention – and a great deal of outrage. But the bigger issue is that Hoosier taxpayers are subsidizing this discrimination through the state’s voucher program.
And the incidents in the news, involving three Indianapolis high schools, are just the tip of the iceberg.
Schools under the purview of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis are now being required to terminate teachers who are in a same-sex marriage, and those schools received $38.6 million in voucher funds in the 2018-19 school year, according to Indiana Department of Education data.
But Indiana law lets private schools that receive vouchers discriminate against against students and their families as well as against employees. As Indiana University professor Suzanne Eckes and other scholars have shown, voucher programs in Indiana and other states allow schools to exclude students on the basis of religion, sexual orientation, gender identity and disability.
The recent stories started last fall, when Indianapolis Roncalli High School suspended a popular guidance counselor after school officials learned she was married to a woman. Another counselor was told her contract would not be renewed for the same reason. Both women have taken legal action.
This month, news broke that Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School in Indianapolis had rejected an archdiocese demand that it fire a teacher who was in a same-sex marriage. But another Indianapolis school, Cathedral High School, said it would “separate” from a teacher in a same-sex relationship to avoid a split with the archdiocese.
After the Roncalli news, several Democrats tried to change state law to prohibit discrimination by disability, sexual orientation or gender identity by schools that receive vouchers. But Republicans in the House united to defeat the proposal. (Roncalli received $1.75 million last year in voucher funding and Cathedral received over $1.1 million).
The actions by Roncalli and Cathedral get a lot of attention because they are high-profile institutions in the state’s biggest city. From my perspective, their actions are indefensible. But from what I can tell, Catholic schools don’t blatantly discriminate against students and families.
That’s not the case with all voucher-receiving religious schools. Some say up front that they don’t have the facilities or resources to meet the needs of children with disabilities. Some make clear, with applicant questionnaires and other means, that they aren’t interested in helping students who have struggled.
And especially among evangelical Christian schools, many stipulate that they will enroll students only if their families agree to a “statement of faith,” typically affirming fundamentalist beliefs. A voucher school in my town says families should be comfortable with biblical teachings, including that “homosexual or bisexual activity … violates God’s ordained distinction between the sexes, male and female.”
As private enterprises, these schools may be free to set their own admissions policies and to teach whatever they want. But with Indiana’s voucher program, many of them have become heavily reliant on taxpayer funding. And institutions that are publicly funded should serve the public, no exceptions.
Indiana spent $161.4 million on vouchers in the 2018-19 school year, and it’s likely that much if not most of that money went to schools that discriminate in one way or another. State officials should either insist that publicly funded programs be open to all – or drop the voucher program altogether.
Note: I’ve reached out to several non-Catholic voucher schools about their policies but haven’t yet heard back. There may be more on this later.