School vouchers and a Supreme Court nominee

Here’s a topic that hasn’t come up but probably should in the debates over Amy Coney Barrett’s likely tenure on the U.S. Supreme Court: public funding of private schools that discriminate.

Barrett served from 2015-17 on the board of Trinity School at Greenlawn, a South Bend Catholic school, the New York Times reported. Trinity had a policy during Barrett’s time on the board that effectively prohibited same-sex couples from enrolling their children in the school, according to the Times.

Amy Coney Barrett (University of Notre Dame photo)

That would seem to cast doubt on Barrett’s claim in her confirmation hearing that she had “never discriminated on the basis of sexual preference” and would not do so. It also raises policy questions about whether publicly funded institutions should practice discrimination.

In the two years that Barrett was on the Trinity board, the school received over a half million dollars in Indiana voucher program funding. Since the start of the state’s voucher program, Trinity School at Greenlawn has received nearly $2 million in state support for student tuition.

Indiana established its school voucher program in 2011, providing state funding to help families pay tuition at private schools, most of which are religious schools. Students qualify for the program by family income and other factors.

Trinity School at Greenlawn enrolls about 250 students in grades 6-12; 85 received vouchers last year.

It’s not clear whether the school still has a policy that would keep out the children of same-sex couples. The school’s handbook says Trinity considers marriage to be “a legal and committed relationship between a man and a woman.” It says that sex outside of marriage, whether straight or gay, is “not in keeping with God’s plan for human sexuality.”

But the handbook also says, “We do not require parents to subscribe to this position.” Unlike some Christian voucher schools, it doesn’t require students and parents to sign a statement of faith.

Indiana private schools that receive voucher funding may not discriminate by race, color or national origin but they may discriminate by religion, sexual orientation, gender identity and disability, and they may turn away students for academic reasons or simply because they aren’t a good “fit.”

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court seems to have abandoned the once mainstream idea that public funding for religious schools violates the constitutional separation of church and state. Instead, the ground has shifted to whether laws that regulate voucher programs are infringing on religious freedom.

In June, the court ruled that Montana couldn’t legally exclude religious schools from a private-school voucher program. An upcoming case challenges whether Maryland can exclude schools that discriminate from receiving vouchers. And some voucher supporters have come close to arguing that parents have a legal right to state funding for their children’s private schools.

These are tough questions that may soon reach a Supreme Court that will include Amy Coney Barrett, former board member of a voucher-receiving school that discriminated.


3 thoughts on “School vouchers and a Supreme Court nominee

  1. Pingback: Indiana: ACB Served on the Board of a School That Discriminated Against Gays | Diane Ravitch's blog

  2. Pingback: Scholars show how to challenge voucher discrimination | School Matters

  3. Pingback: Court may open door for vouchers, religious charter schools | School Matters

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