Education Voters of PA recently released a report that examines discriminatory policies and practices in private and religious schools that participate in Pennsylvania’s Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit (OSTC) school voucher program. Students receiving OSTC vouchers would be eligible for a second voucher to pay tuition to these schools through the proposed PASS/Lifeline Scholarship voucher programs that Governor Shapiro and Republican lawmakers have supported.
An analysis of school websites, handbooks, and applications of one in four OSTC voucher schools found that a full 100% of schools surveyed have policies in place that can be used to discriminate against students.
Our report demonstrates with clarity that voucher programs do not create “choice” for all students. Instead they create the illusion of “choice” because private and religious voucher schools can– and do– engage in discrimination and refuse to enroll students, even if their family has a voucher.
We chose roughly one in every four schools on the list of 789 private and religious schools that are listed as participating in the Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit Program. Of the 159 OSTC voucher schools that had adequate information online to evaluate, we found:
- Eighty-nine percent (89%) of the schools are religious. The majority are Catholic or nondenominational Christian schools, but the list also includes 7th Day Adventist, Baptist, Episcopalian, Islamic, Jewish, Mennonite, Methodist, and Quaker schools.
- Nearly 1 in 5 schools have explicit statements discriminating against LGBTQ+ students.*
- Nearly half of the schools engage in some type of discrimination based on religion.
- Thirteen percent of schools have punitive abortion or pregnancy policies.*
- More than half of the schools have requirements that allow them to discriminate against students based on their academic ability/performance.
- More than half of the schools discriminate against students based on disability.
- More than 80% of schools have policies that allow them to refuse to admit students if they are not the “right fit” with the school.
*Our count did not assume that all Catholic schools within a Diocese follow the Diocesan policies on LGBTQ+ students or abortion/pregnancy. We only counted a school as having a discriminatory policy if it was explicitly written on their website. The number of schools with discriminatory LGBTQ+ and abortion/pregnancy policies would be significantly higher if schools within a Diocese follow the Diocesan policy.
The legislature and governor have been tasked with ensuring that Pennsylvania’s school funding system will comply with the constitutional mandate to “provide for every student to receive a meaningful opportunity to succeed academically, socially, and civically, which requires that all students have access to a comprehensive, effective, and contemporary system of public education.”
Allocating state tax dollars to fund private and religious voucher schools does not help the state to meet its constitutional requirements.
Instead, directing public dollars into voucher schools that are free to discriminate against children makes compliance with the court ruling harder to achieve. Every public dollar that funds tuition at a private school leaves fewer dollars available to be spent in the state budget, undermining the Commonwealth’s ability to fully fund public schools in every community.
We are in a pivotal moment for advocacy opposing school vouchers. The Shapiro Administration is putting together its 2024-2025 state budget right now and state lawmakers are deciding on their budget priorities for the new year. Let’s send a strong message to them that Pennsylvanians want them to fund PUBLIC schools that educate all students, not vouchers for discriminatory private and religious schools.
PS: Click HERE to register for a webinar about this report on Tuesday, December 12 at 7:00 pm and bring a friend!