Commentary, Education, News

NC voucher program should follow Maryland’s lead, end funding to schools that discriminate

The Baltimore Sun reports this morning that a religious school, with the aid of a right-wing legal organization, is suing the state of Maryland over the decision of education officials to deny it school voucher funding because of its discriminatory policies. Oh, that North Carolina leaders had the courage to adopt and implement a similar policy.

As the Sun reports:

Maryland’s education leaders decided to deny vouchers to Bethel Christian Academy in 2018 after it read the school’s handbook, which says that it believes marriage can only be between a man and a woman and that God assigns a gender to a child at birth.

“Therefore, faculty, staff and student conduct is expected to align with this view,” the handbook states. “Faculty, staff and students are required to identify with, dress in accordance with, and use the facilities associated with their biological gender.”…

Maryland’s voucher program, begun in the 2016-2017 school year under Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, offers students a taxpayer-funded scholarship to attend a private school. Called Broadening Options and Opportunities for Students, or BOOST, the program’s $7 million budget is enough to support more than 3,000 students. The scholarships go to low-income students who want to attend a school where the tuition is less than $14,000.

After the first year of the program, the BOOST board learned that a Harford County religious school had what it called discriminatory language in its handbook and banned the use of vouchers there. It also launched a complete review of the handbooks of all 176 participating schools. The board said 22 schools had questionable language in their guides. Nine of those schools were ruled ineligible. Another 10 schools were disqualified and required to refund payments they had already received from the state. Of those 10 schools, six revised the language in their handbook and were approved to participate.

Some Christian academies said they would not accept students who were homosexual and would expel them if they exhibited “homosexual conduct.” The schools say they believe marriage can only be between a man and a woman.

After it rescinded Bethel’s approval, the BOOST board told Bethel to pay back the $106,000 in state funds it had received. In the lawsuit, Bethel asks the court to both reinstate the school in the voucher program and not require it to pay back the money.

The story goes on to explain the legal theories of the competing parties and the fact that the very existence of a voucher program remains highly controversial.

Let’s hope the defendants prevail, that the policy to deny vouchers to schools that discriminate remains in place and that North Carolina officials follow Maryland’s lead in the near future.

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