Pennsylvania taxpayers are funding discrimination in private and religious schools

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By Sean Kitchen

December 7, 2023

A scathing report published by Education Voters of Pennsylvania found that 100% of schools that receive vouchers are responsible for some form of discrimination, while 20% of the schools specifically discriminate against students from the LGBTQ community.

Pennsylvania taxpayers are footing the bill for discrimination at private schools that receive scholarships from the commonwealth’s voucher programs, according to a new report published by Education Voters of Pennsylvania. 

The report examined handbooks and school policies for 159 schools, roughly one out of every four in the state, that receive money through the Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit program (OSTC)—which allows public school students living in Pennsylvania’s lowest performing school districts to receive vouchers for a private school—and found some form of discrimination at every single school that receives the vouchers

Nearly 90% of the schools examined for this report are religious schools, and the majority are Catholic or nondenominational Christian schools. The most common form of discrimination found in these schools was discrimination against LGBTQ students, with 20% of schools examined featuring some form of discrimination against LGBTQ kids. 

“Some policies also stated that students will be expelled if the school learns that students or members of their families are part of the LGBTQ+ community,” Susan Spicka, the Executive Director of Education Voters of Pennsylvania, said in a press call with reporters on Tuesday. 

For example, if a student in the Harrisburg Diocese undergoes gender-reassignment surgery, they are subject to expulsion. 

“Notification of a student’s determination to undergo a sex change procedure or that a student has undergone the procedure…the student would be ineligible to attend or remain in attendance in a Catholic school,” according to a policy in the Harrisburg Diocese.

Other forms of discrimination the report highlights includes discrimination based on: pregnancy, abortion, or fathering a child; discrimination based on religion, disability, and academics; and discrimination based on whether or not a student is the “right fit,” a vague categorization based on a student’s academic and disciplinary history and a host of other factors as well.

According to the Clearfield Christian School, which is located between State College and DuBois, any student that is pregnant or fathers a child will be immediately expelled.

The school’s pregnancy policy states: “Pregnancy or fathering a child will result in the immediate expulsion of the student, with the right to appeal and possible review for future reinstatement. Any student who becomes pregnant or fathers a child must report this information to the administration as soon as possible.”

Pennsylvania legalized school vouchers in 2001 by creating the Educational Income Tax Credit (EITC), which allows corporations to receive tax breaks for giving money to scholarship organizations, which is then distributed to students via vouchers. The OSTC tax credit was created a decade later, in 2011. 

The two programs cost Pennsylvania taxpayers a combined $405 million in the 2022-2023 budget and have diverted more than $2 billion away from public schools since vouchers were legalized more than two decades ago. 

These scholarship programs take money away from public schools by allowing corporations and wealthy residents to give money to a scholarship organization, which then gives scholarships to students to attend private schools. In return, those business owners or wealthy individuals will receive tax credits, which diverts money away from public coffers to fund schools or other programs. 

“Every public dollar that funds tuition at a private school that picks and chooses the students that it enrolls leaves fewer dollars available to be spent in the state budget, which undermines the commonwealth’s ability to fully fund public schools that educate all children,” Spicka told reporters. 

“Vouchers create the illusion of school choice. Private and religious voucher schools can, and do, engage in discrimination, and they refuse to enroll students even if their family is eligible for a voucher.”

Author

  • Sean Kitchen

    Sean Kitchen is the Keystone’s political correspondent, based in Harrisburg. Sean is originally from Philadelphia and spent five years working as a writer and researcher for Pennsylvania Spotlight.

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