Editorials

In NC, vouchers support private schools that discriminate

Advocates of school vouchers say the public money gives parents more choices for educating their children, but in North Carolina some schools taking vouchers won’t take all children.
Advocates of school vouchers say the public money gives parents more choices for educating their children, but in North Carolina some schools taking vouchers won’t take all children. AP

The logic behind a state program that gives lower-income parents up to $4,200 a year for private school tuition is that it provides parents “a choice.” But now there is a disturbing other side to that choice. Some private schools that are getting public dollars choose not to accept lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender students.

The Charlotte Observer reported last week that at least four faith-based private schools in Mecklenburg County that get public funds say in their handbooks that they will not accept certain students based on sex or gender issues.

Unfortunately, this discrimination is legal in North Carolina since sexual orientation is not included in the state’s anti-discrimination law. But that lapse does not justify spending taxpayers’ money to sustain schools that practice discrimination.

And the state’s objection should be practical as well as moral. Why should the parents of lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender students have to pay taxes to provide “a choice” that includes schools that refuse to accept their children?

State Rep. Paul Stam, a Republican from Apex who sponsored the voucher program legislation, isn’t bothered by the moral or practical issues of underwriting discrimination. With the head-spinning logic he often applies to dismiss objections to Republican policies, Stam says there’s no problem with schools that discriminate because parents can choose from others that don’t. “Parents choose where to send children. And parents are free to choose whatever school they want within the hundreds of possibilities,” he says.

The liberal-leaning advocacy group, N.C. Policy Watch, has long questioned the discriminatory aspects of the voucher program. Chris Fitzsimon, the group’s co-founder, says, “We’re asking taxpayers in North Carolina to support schools that they’re not eligible to attend.”

Stam and other voucher supporters are not eager to examine the issues raised by paying for students from low-income families to attend private schools because they need to declare the program a success in order to expand it. In fact, GOP members have already boosted it to the point where by 2027-28, $145 million in taxpayer dollars will be going to private school tuition. Today, some 400 schools get money through the voucher program, some of them church-based, many of them small. All of them should be open to all students.

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