Vouchers Undermine Civil Rights
Private voucher schools do not provide the same rights and protections to students as public schools, such as those in Titles IV and VI of the Civil Rights Act, Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Every Student Succeeds Act. And, students who attend private schools using vouchers are stripped of the First Amendment, due process, and other constitutional and statutory rights guaranteed to them in public schools.
For more on federal nondiscrimination laws and private voucher schools, see How School Privatization Opens the Door for Discrimination
LGBTQ Students & Parents:
Private schools that accept taxpayer-funded vouchers often deny admission to LGBTQ students and students with LGBTQ parents. In addition, many teach anti-LGBTQ curriculum. A 2013 study of a Georgia tuition tax credit program found that “at least 115 private schools [participating in the program] have explicit anti-gay policies or belong to associations that condemn homosexuality.”
In North Carolina, voucher programs also fund schools that have explicit anti-LGBT policies. For example, one school's handbook states that it will refuse to admit and will expel students that are "living in, condoning, or supporting any form of sexual immorality; practicing or promoting a homosexual lifestyle or alternative gender identity.”
In Indiana a 2017 report found that one in ten schools — totaling $16 million in public funds — maintained anti-LGBTQ policies.
Students of Color:
National data shows that private schools tend to be more segregated than similarly situated public schools and enroll higher populations of white students compared to public schools. It is clear that private school vouchers have not helped integrate schools, and in some cases, have led to increased rates of segregation in schools.
For example, a 2016 study found that Louisiana’s voucher program had a negative impact on integration in private schools. Similarly, in Milwaukee a study found that 85% of African American students in the voucher program attended “intensely segregated” schools, as opposed to around 77% of those in public schools. A 2010 study of Georgia’s tuition tax credit program revealed that while only 10% of white students in public schools attended “virtually segregated” schools, in private voucher schools the percentage rose to 53%. And, a study of Cleveland’s voucher program found that minority students were much more likely than their peers to have never entered a voucher program or left their voucher program and returned to public schools.
Private school vouchers violate the religious freedom of taxpayers who are forced to foot the bill for religious education. They also threaten the autonomy of private religious schools by opening them up to government audits, control, and interference.
Some state voucher programs allow private schools to discriminate against students based on their or their families’ religious beliefs. For example, according to its written policy, a North Carolina private school accepting vouchers denies admission to “those in cults, i.e. Mormons, Jehovah Witness, Christian Science, Unification Church, Zen Buddhism, Unitarianism, and United Pentecostal.” Some schools also condition admission on adhering to certain religious principles. For example, the Government Accountability Office’s 2016 study identified one voucher school that required all students in fourth grade and above to follow a list of religious principles.
Lack of Statutory Civil Rights Protections:
A 2019 survey of all 62 voucher programs across the country found that the majority of state voucher programs lack sufficient statutory civil rights protections for students. Although 42% of voucher programs incorporated federal nondiscrimination language, this language is inadequate to protect voucher students’ civil rights because it is conditioned on the private school’s receipt of federal funding. State-specific statutory protections are stronger, but only 42% of programs have statutory protections—and they do not cover all categories of discrimination. In 16% of voucher programs, there are no civil rights protections at all.
Of the voucher programs:
Only 3% protected all categories of sex, race, disability, religion, sexual orientation, and gender identity;
42% provide nondiscrimination protections for race;
24% provide nondiscrimination protections for religion;
18% provide nondiscrimination protections for sex;
11% provide nondiscrimination protections for sexual orientation;
and 5% provide nondiscrimination protections for gender identity.