There are 33,619 private schools in the United States, which serve nearly 5.4 million students. But all of these students and their families could be impacted by decisions in the White House over the next few months concerning private school vouchers.
The Trump Administration, particularly Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, is seeking to institute a Federal School Choice program, and they are looking to Indiana for guidance. The state has the largest and most aggressive voucher program in the country.
Now, supporters hope that DeVos can learn from both the successes of the Indiana program and its failures.
An editorial published this June in Fort Wayne’s News-Sentinel reads:
“The largest pitfall looming has to do with a private school’s continued ability to operate under its own philosophical tenets and its duty to adopt the norms and values of the public sector from which it accepts money. How much can it change and still be true to its mission? How much must it change as a condition of accepting public funding?”
Specifically, the newspaper cites the case of Lighthouse Christian Academy in Bloomington, Indiana, which has come under fire for their policies on their ability to potentially discriminate based on sexual orientation.
The school was founded in the early 1990s by parents that wanted to get an affordable, Christian education for their children.
The school’s officials say they’ve never turned anyone away based on sexual orientation, but that they should have that right because of the core Christian tenants of the school. Following biblical rules, the school brochure states that the Bible does not allow “any form of sexual immorality,” and that if a student’s home life violates biblical rule, the school can deny them admission or expel them.
Brian Bailey, an attorney serving as the school’s spokesman, said that the government cannot regulate the actions of a private institute.
“Parents are free to choose which school best comports with their religious convictions. For a real choice and thus real liberty to exist, the government may not impose its own orthodoxy and homogenize all schools to conform to politically correct attitudes and ideologies.”
Former Lighthouse student Mary Wegener states that some of her classmates were gay and treated with love and care, but also encouraged to “flee from these sins.” She agreed with the sentiment expressed by Bailey.
“If they (Lighthouse) are going to be a Christian school, they can’t conform to everything else, because then that would be a private school that knocked out the Christian name,” Wegener told the News-Sentinel.
As the Trump Administration considers expanding the voucher program to the national level, it’s all but certain that similar controversies will spread nationwide.