choice for most

14 percent of U.S. schools accepting vouchers have anti-LGBT policies, according to new investigation

PHOTO: Julia Donheiser

Across the country, millions of taxpayer dollars are flowing to private schools that explicitly discriminate against gay students.

That’s the conclusion of a new analysis by the Huffington Post, which examined policies at 7,000 private schools where families can pay tuition using vouchers — an arrangement that U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has said she’d like to see expand. From the story:

We found at least 14 percent of religious schools take an active stance against LGBTQ staff and students. … At least 5 percent of these schools also have explicit policies against hiring or retaining LGBTQ staff.

On the other hand, we also found many schools that have policies specifically protecting students from discrimination based on sexual orientation.

The story’s analysis and conclusions map closely to those of an investigation we published this summer into how Indiana schools that accept vouchers treat LGBT students. That state has the country’s largest voucher program, and almost every participating school is religious. We found that one in 10 schools receiving vouchers explicitly discriminates against LGBT students — and that those schools netted $16 million in state funding last year.

DeVos has sent mixed messages on such policies. She’s told Congress that discrimination is wrong “in any form,” and emphasized that all students should feel safe at school. But she’s also said that states should continue to make their own choices about voucher policy.

The Huffington Post story offers a searing example of the effects that discrimination can have. The story, by Rebecca Klein, looks at what has happened to 12-year-old Sunnie Kahle in the three years since she was turned away from her private Christian school in Virginia for not being feminine enough.

“They pretty much ruined a little girl’s life,” Kahle’s grandmother told Klein.

DeVos in Detroit

Betsy DeVos’s first Detroit visit featured Girl Scouts, robots, and talk of beluga whales

PHOTO: Kimberly Hayes Taylor
U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos takes pictures on her phone during the FIRST Robotics World Championship, held in Detroit on April 27, 2018.

Betsy DeVos was all smiles on Friday as she toured the world’s largest robotics competition and congratulated student contestants.

The event was her first visit to Detroit as education secretary. DeVos, a Michigan-based philanthropist before joining the cabinet, has a long history of involvement with the city’s education policies.

It was a friendly environment for the secretary, who has often faced protesters who disagree with her stance on private school vouchers or changes to civil rights guidance at public events. (Even her security protection appeared to be in a good mood on Friday.)

Here are four things we noticed about DeVos’s visit to downtown and the FIRST Robotics World Championship.

1. She got to talk to some local students after all.

DeVos didn’t visit any Detroit schools, and didn’t answer any questions from reporters about education in Michigan. But as she toured the junior LEGO competition, she did stop to talk to a handful of Girl Scouts from the east side of the city.

PHOTO: Kimberly Hayes Taylor

2. She knows a thing or two about beluga whales.

She also stopped to stop to chat with students from Ann Arbor who called themselves the Beluga Builders and designed a water park that economizes water. DeVos asked how they came up with their name, and they told her how much they love the whales. “They have big humps on their heads, right?” DeVos said. “Yes,” they answered in unison.

3. She is an amateur shutterbug.

She stopped often during her tour to shoot photos and videos with her own cell phone. She took photos of the elementary and middle school students’ LEGO exhibits and photos of the robotics competition.

PHOTO: Kimberly Hayes Taylor

4. She was eager to put forth a friendly face.

As she stopped by students’ booths, she often knelt down to children’s eye level. When she posed for group pictures, she directed students into position. And she shook lots of hands, asking kids questions about their projects.

next stop

Robotics is bringing Betsy DeVos to Detroit for the first time as education secretary

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. (U.S. Department of Education)

Betsy DeVos is set to appear in Detroit for the first time as education secretary on Friday, though she’s unlikely to encounter local students when she’s there.

DeVos is scheduled to attend a student robotics competition being held downtown in a bid to promote science and math education. The event is also likely to again highlight DeVos’s past influence over education policy in the city, which has been heavily scrutinized.

Before becoming President Trump’s education chief, DeVos, a prominent Michigan philanthropist, was a key architect of policies that many blame for the dire state of Detroit’s schools.

We’ve outlined that debate in full, but the key points are that the state’s charter law puts no restrictions on where or how many charter schools can open, which has created school deserts in some neighborhoods, and far too many schools in others. Both district and charter schools struggle financially with less-than-full enrollments, while student performance suffers across the board.

DeVos’ critics say she has blocked attempts to bring order and oversight to Detroit schools. Defenders note that parents now have more options and that charter school students in the city do slightly better on state exams than their peers in district schools.

DeVos also had a tense exchange with Lesley Stahl of “60 Minutes” about Michigan schools back in March.

“Michigan schools need to do better. There is no doubt about it,” she said.

DeVos’s announcement says she plans to meet with students on Friday. But while the event is happening in Detroit, the students DeVos encounters at the FIRST Robotics World Championship on Friday will almost surely hail from elsewhere. Earlier this week, Chalkbeat noted that just one city high school in Detroit qualified to send a team.