AZ Vouchers Lead to
Taxpayer-funded private schools in Arizona are discriminating against children and families due to their LGBTQ status, underscoring the fact that ESA vouchers are being used to prop up state-funded hate. More stories of state-funded hate and discrimination continue to come to light as details emerge about how universal ESA vouchers are being spent.
Vouchers Prop Up State-Funded Discrimination
The Arizona Republic recently reported that the pastor at an East Valley private school funded by ESA vouchers confronted two gay fathers, telling them that they were not welcome on campus, and that their child would not have been allowed to enroll had the school known her parents were gay. One of the fathers is quoted as saying he “felt very unsafe” and believed he was being threatened by the principal. All schools (especially taxpayer-funded schools) should welcome parents to be partners in their child’s education, not made to feel unsafe just stepping foot on campus.
All children deserve a quality, well-resourced education and their family situation, sexual orientation, or identity should never be a reason to deny them an education. The now-universal ESA Voucher program siphons nearly $500 million every year from local public schools to subsidize private school tuition and homeschooling — in turn subsidizing state-sponsored hate.
Unfortunately, many of the private schools now propped up by ESA vouchers have unabashed anti-LGBTQ admissions processes. For example, Charlie Kirk’s Turning Point Academy, housed within Dream City Church, has a Statement of Faith on its website requiring all students, families and staff to attest that there are only two genders and that “rejection of one’s biological sex is a rejection of the image of God within that person.” The statement also says that “any form of sexual immorality… including homosexual behavior” is “sinful and offensive to God.” Dream City Christian School is an approved ESA voucher recipient, meaning that parents must agree that their children will be indoctrinated with these tenets before they can spend taxpayer-funded ESA voucher dollars on tuition.
In a district or charter school setting, children are admitted regardless of religious beliefs, sexual orientation or gender identity, and parents cannot be barred from participating in their child’s education. However, these legal avenues are unlikely to apply to private schools, meaning these forms of discrimination are likely allowable. In fact, Arizona laws prohibit the state from requiring private schools to enact fair admissions processes. This is not “school choice” — it is the school’s choice what type of students they will admit. Save Our Schools Arizona has fought universal ESA expansion for years because state-funded hate should not be enshrined in Arizona law.
Why School-Sponsored, State-Funded Hate is So Harmful
According to the Trevor Project, LGBTQ youth face higher risks of suicide and depression because of how they are mistreated and stigmatized in society. LGBTQ+ youth are more than four times as likely to attempt suicide than their peers. Many of these youth lack access to affirming spaces, with only 55% of LGBTQ+ youth reporting that their school affirms their identity and only 37% saying that their home is LGBTQ-affirming. Research consistently finds that young people report lower rates of attempting suicide when they have access to LGBTQ-affirming spaces.
Children learn best when they are in a safe space; hearing from trusted adults that they or their families are “sinful” or “offensive” sets up a power dynamic that induces trauma and hinders their ability to learn. According to the American Psychological Association, an inclusive classroom setting leads to positive changes in students’ attitudes and values. Inclusive classrooms also provide global academic benefits such as improved critical thinking and higher overall achievement levels for all students.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, in schools with LBGTQ support groups (such as gay-straight alliances), LGBTQ+ students were less likely to experience threats of violence, less likely to miss school, and less likely to attempt suicide than those students in schools without LGBTQ+ support groups. A recent study found that LGBTQ+ students had fewer suicidal thoughts and attempts when schools had support groups and policies prohibiting expression of homophobia in place for 3 or more years.
Who’s Really Doing the Indoctrinating?
While extremists falsely accuse public school teachers of indoctrinating and grooming students, reports reveal a deeper story around state-sponsored indoctrination at some Arizona private schools.
ESA vouchers lead to state-funded discrimination, since private schools can — and do — discriminate against students based on sexual orientation and gender identity, as well as that of their families. Many private schools that accept millions in taxpayer-funded ESA vouchers are unapologetic regarding their discriminatory views on gender and sexuality, and explicitly exclude students, families and staff who will not attest to statements of faith that align with these discriminatory viewpoints.
Stories of state-funded hate will inevitably increase over the next year as universal ESA vouchers are more fully utilized. A recent federal lawsuit alleges a teacher at Valley Christian High School (VCS) was wrongfully terminated days after speaking out about the school’s discrimination against LGBTQ students based on his own tolerant religious beliefs. The complaint spotlights the school’s pervasive anti-LGBTQ culture and systemic harassment of staff and students with more inclusive views. The complaint alleges that principal Josh LeSage told staff in a meeting that all teachers and staff who were supportive of LGBTQ students were “like a cancer that needed to be removed from VCS” and called the idea that LGBTQ persons could be Christians a “hideous lie” and “so offensive.”
McDorman requested that a student who’d recently come out as pansexual should have their parents present when Principal LeSage met with them regarding their sexual orientation; instead, the principal held a meeting with the student unbeknownst to the parents, calling the child “sinful” and telling them “same-sex relations are an abomination to God,” according to the lawsuit. Valley Christian Schools (VCS) operates three schools in the East Valley and is an approved vendor for Arizona’s ESA voucher program.
On its website, VCS states in its “Foundational Positions” that “rejection of one’s biological gender is a rejection of the image of God within that person” and calls homosexuality a form of “sexual immorality” that is “sinful and offensive to God” and would likely result in a student’s expulsion.
AZ Voters Support Governor Hobbs’ Push to Repeal Universal Vouchers
As more horrific accounts like these come to light and the program dramatically drains funding from local public schools, Arizona voters are rightfully demanding the universal ESA voucher program be overturned.
The Arizona State Constitution requires the state to provide a public education to all students; it does not require the funding of private schools or home education. Arizona has a constitutional obligation to fully fund public schools before creating other systems of schooling. This Legislature must undo the harm last year’s legislature and Ducey caused by repealing universal ESA vouchers before this harmful program bankrupts our schools and our state.