NC Private School Voucher Program Is State-Sanctioned Discrimination

NC private school vouchers

From left, North Carolina Rep. Tricia Cotham, R-Mecklenburg, Sen. Michael Lazzara, R-Onslow, House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, and Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, listen during a Legislative Building news conference in Raleigh, N.C., on Wednesday, April 26, 2023. Cotham is a chief sponsor of a measure that would end family income eligibility requirements for a K-12 student to obtain a taxpayer-funded award to attend a private or religious school. (AP Photo/Gary D. Robertson)

By Heather Koons

August 9, 2023

Many of the schools getting a NC private school voucher are allowed to discriminate with your dollars, says a public education advocate from North Carolina.

State law requires the private schools that receive public dollars through the Opportunity Scholarship program — aka the NC private school voucher program — to adhere to some, but not all, federal non-discrimination laws.

By selectively limiting which federal laws these non-public schools must follow, North Carolina is allowing state-sanctioned discrimination. 

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With legislative leaders poised to expand the voucher program through House Bill 823, and the state budget, we should ask ourselves if we really want public tax dollars going to discriminatory institutions.

How you can, and can’t, discriminate with a NC private school voucher

North Carolina law requires private schools to follow the requirements of Title VI, 42 USC § 2000d (Civil Rights Act of 1964), the federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, and national origin. As a result, many voucher-accepting private school websites have some version of a non-discrimination statement asserting that the school does not discriminate in admissions on the basis of race, color, or national origin.

However, other federal laws that prohibit discrimination are not mentioned in state laws regulating non-public schools. So federal laws such as the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability, including physical and intellectual, and Title IX, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, can be ignored by private schools. 

As a result, many voucher-accepting private schools have policies that explicitly discriminate against federally protected groups. For example, at North Hills Christian School in Salisbury, “The Executive Director and admissions committee may refuse to admit a student with disciplinary or psychological problems, or any student who they determine has spiritual, behavioral, or academic needs that cannot be met by the school.” 

The student handbook at Spirit of Life Christian Academy in Clinton, meanwhile, includes the line that “No student with severe learning/disability problems will be accepted.” 

Other institutions have broadly worded policies open to multiple avenues for discrimination: Liberty Christian Academy in Richlands “reserves the right, within its sole discretion, to refuse admission of an applicant or to discontinue enrollment of a student if the atmosphere or conduct within a particular home or the activities of the student are counter to or in opposition to the biblical lifestyle the school teaches.”

These are just a few examples of the many private schools with similar policies. 

In addition, many schools use various private application/selection processes for admitting students that are effective in excluding students for a variety of reasons.

NC Lawmakers Aren’t Doing Their Jobs

State officials can do a lot more to prevent discrimination, but so far they haven’t. Just as state law requires voucher-accepting schools to adhere to federal laws prohibiting discrimination based on race, color, or national origin, state law could require voucher-accepting schools to adhere to other federal non-discrimination laws. They could withhold funding from private schools that violate any federal anti-discrimination laws.

When they are sworn in, North Carolina legislators vow to uphold the North Carolina State Constitution. Article IX states that “The General Assembly shall provide by taxation and otherwise for a general and uniform system of free public schools, which shall be maintained at least nine months in every year, and wherein equal opportunities shall be provided for all students.”

Funding private schools through the voucher programs clearly violates this provision. By using taxpayer funds to fund private schools that, by design, are not open to all, North Carolina is promoting state-sanctioned discrimination. This is morally reprehensible. 

Private schools can discriminate on their own dime. Taxpayers should not be footing the bill. 

Heather Koons is communications director at Public Schools First NC, a nonpartisan, nonprofit advocacy organization. 

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