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When Do Voucher Programs Allow Private Schools to Discriminate Against Students?

By Andrew Ujifusa — June 07, 2017 1 min read

It’s one of the bigger topics in federal education policy right now: What are the federal laws governing discrimination when it comes to private schools? And what’s Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ position on the issue?

In a Senate budget hearing Tuesday, DeVos repeatedly told lawmakers that, “Schools that receive federal funds must follow federal law, period.” But she also said that the U.S. Department of Education won’t be issuing decrees to schools about discrimination, leaving the future of LGBT students, for example, unclear under any federal voucher program.

But what’s the lay of the land right now in state voucher programs? We’ve got you covered. We took a look at those programs along with our colleague Arianna Prothero of the Charters and Choice blog in a story this week. The short answer? Aside from explicit prohibitions on racial discrimination, there aren’t many anti-bias guardrails in states’ vouchers. As we reported in the story, researchers have found that, “Not a single state protects LGBT students within its voucher law’s anti-discrimination language.”

Defenders of DeVos’ position have argued that it’s not the job of the Education Department to make a legal determination of which groups of students are covered by federal anti-discrimination laws. During the hearing, for example, Sen. Roy Blunt, D-Mo., noted that it’s up to Congress and the courts to reach such a resolution.

In a House budget hearing last month, DeVos put the emphasis on state and parent prerogatives when it comes to how voucher programs handle discrimination. So the secretary’s emphasis to the Senate earlier this week, it’s fair to say, changed from what she emphasized to House lawmakers in May.

DeVos had a particularly testy exchange about this issue with Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., on Tuesday—you can watch video of that at the top of this post.


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