It is no secret that I am a fan of school choice. I believe parents should have control over the education of their children, and that shouldn’t be determined by zip code or financial ability. My opinion is not shared by everyone within the “Stop Common Core,” and there is a good reason for that – we are concerned about strings that can be attached.

I fully empathize with and share that concern. There is no constitutional role for the federal government in education, and I am leery about any federal involvement particularly when it involves school choice.

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos testifying before a House subcommittee last week had an exchange with Congresswoman Katherine Clark (D-MA) that should give us pause.

Watch below:

Transcript:

Congresswoman Clark: “I want to go back to Indiana, to Bloomington in particular, and look at the Lighthouse Christian Academy. The Lighthouse Christian Academy currently receives over $665,000 in state vouchers for students to attend their school. They are also clear in their handbook and their guidance that if you are from a family where there is homosexual or bisexual activity, their word, not mine, or a practicing alternate gender identity who may be denied admission. If this school, which is obviously approved to discriminate against LGBT students in Indiana, if Indiana applies for this federal funding will you stand up that this school be open to all students?”

Secretary DeVos: “Thank you, Congresswoman, for your question in regards, broadly, to school choice and… (interrupted)”

Clark: “It’s actually, kind of, narrow because I have one minute left.”

DeVos: “And I would like to refer back to your question about the comment, about the…

(crosstalk)

Clark: “I am sure you would, I want, I want to ask, particularly, is there a line for you on state flexibility? You are the backstop for students and their right to access a quality education. Would you, in this case, we are going to overrule and you cannot discriminate against whether it be on sexual orientation, race, special needs, in our voucher programs? Will that be a guarantee from you for our students?”

DeVos: “States that have programs that allow parents to make choices, they set up the rules around that.”

(crosstalk)

Clark: “So do you see any circumstance where the Federal Department of Education, under your leadership, would say that a school was not qualified? What if they said we are not accepting African-American students, but that was ok with the state, does the state trump? Do you see any situation where you would step in?”

DeVos: “Well, again I think the Office of Civil Rights and the Title IX protections are broadly applicable across the board, but when it comes to parents making choices on behalf of.”

(crosstalk)

Clark: “This is a… this is about parents making choices? This is about use of federal dollars. Is there any situation, would you say to Indiana that school cannot discriminate against LGBT students if you want to receive federal dollars? Or would you say the state has the flexibility in this situation?”

DeVos: “I believe states…”

Clark: “Yes or no.”

DeVos: “…have flexibility in their programs”

(crosstalk)

Clark: “So, so if I understand your testimony, I want to be sure that I get this right, there is no situation of discrimination or exclusion, if the state approved it for the voucher program, that you would step in and say that is not how we are going to use our federal dollars. There is no situation that if the state approved it, you would put the state flexibility over our students. Is that your testimony?”

DeVos: “I think a hypothetical in this case…”

Clark: “It is not a hypothetical, this is a real school applying, that receives dollars.”

(Subcommittee chair reminds Congresswoman Clark that her time has expired, but he will allow Secretary DeVos to finish answering the question.)

DeVos: “I go back to, the bottom line is, we believe parents are the best equipped to make choices for their children’s schooling and education decisions, and too many children today are trapped in schools that don’t work for them. We have to do something different, we have to do something different than to continue a top-down, one-size-fits-all approach and that is the focus and states and local communities are best equipped to make these decisions and framework on behalf of their… (interrupted)”

Clark: “I am shocked that you cannot come up with one example of discrimination that you would stand up for students.”

First, I would like to say that I am happy that Secretary DeVos stood up for state flexibility. My view is that if there is any federal funding for education at all, then it should be in the form of block grants were states can decide how to spend it.

Second, Congresswoman Clark apparently doesn’t recognize there are no protections for LGBT students under federal law. Title IX has no such language. President Obama’s guidance regarding LGBT students to schools was an attempt to rewrite the law. There is, however, codified protections for race, so a school could not discriminate against African-Americans. That is a strawman argument. Segregation has been over for decades, and we have had no reports that any school wants to go back to that. This doesn’t take into account that Indiana and other states have laws that prohibit that. States that have protections for LGBT people have religious exemptions.

Third, Christian schools must be wary of any strings that may be attached to vouchers whether it is from the federal or state level. Christian schools may have to take a stand and reject receiving any funding that requires them to violate their religious principles.

The school in question, Lighthouse Christian Academy in Bloomington, IN, have these lifestyle expectations:

The Bible prohibits specific behaviors and limits marriage to a covenant relationship between a man and a woman (Genesis 2:21-25; Ephesians 5:22-33).  LCA will instruct students in these teachings.  Behaviors prohibited in the Bible include, but are not limited to:

  • Heterosexual activity outside of one man-one-woman marriage.  For example, premarital sex, cohabitation, or adultery (John 8:1-11; I Corinthians 6:9-20; Hebrews 13:4);
  • Homosexual or bisexual activity or any form of sexual immorality (Romans 1:21-27; I Corinthians 6:9-20);
  • Practicing alternate gender identity or any other identity or behavior that violates God’s ordained distinctions between the two sexes, male and female (Genesis 1:26-27; Deuteronomy 22:5);
  • Sexual harassment, use or viewing of pornographic material or websites (Psalm 101:2-3; Matthew 7:12, Ephesians 5:3);
  • Sexual abuse or improprieties toward minors as defined by Scripture and federal or state law (Matthew 18:5-6; Luke 18:15);
  • Sexual abuse or improprieties toward minors as defined by Scripture and federal or state law (Matthew 18:5-6; Luke 18:15);
  • Drunkenness  or the use of illicit drugs (Ephesians 5:18, Romans 13:13-14);
  • The use of vulgar and profane language (Ephesians 4:29, 5:4; Colossians 3:8);
  • Deceit- Deliberately falsifying materials or misrepresenting facts by lying (Matthew 5:33-37);
  • Theft- The act of stealing (Exodus 20:15, Ephesians 4:28);
  • Any illegal activity (Romans 13:1-5).

I would suspect that the federal government expected the school not to enforce this lifestyle covenant, as it applies to LGBT students, then they would reject the funding. I have not seen an application, so I don’t know if they ask if a student identifies as homosexual. This document says this is what they will teach; I figure it is a document that students and parents have to sign, and that is not unusual.

I have to wonder why an LGBT student would want to go to a school like this anyway.

I’m glad that Secretary DeVos will leave such rules up to the states, but if school choice funding continues under a different administration, we can’t assume that will always be the case.

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