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July 25, 2024 12:13 pm

Opinion

The Arizona Department of Education Doesn’t Want to Protect Students from Discrimination | Opinion

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State-funded hate has no place in our great state. Yet, that’s exactly what the Empowerment Scholarship Account voucher program continues to prop up — a wide network of religious and private schools that are taking hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars while deliberately excluding LGBTQ+ students, educators, staff and even families. 

These vouchers were sold under the guise of “school choice,” but it’s clearly the schools that are doing the choosing. 

Just this week, the Arizona State Board of Education passed a new school voucher handbook with no protections against outright discrimination. Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne continues to openly attack trans youth on Twitter, and the Republican majority in the Legislature turns a blind eye to discrimination in voucher-funded schools. 

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In Queen Creek, a private school told two gay dads they weren’t welcome at their daughter’s school. Charlie Kirk’s new Turning Point Academy at Dream City Church forces everyone at the school to sign a statement of faith that says marriage is between a man and a woman and that “homosexual behavior is sinful.” 

I wish these were isolated incidents, but prejudice continues to pop up as many voucher schools promote the same hateful ideology that openly discriminates on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation — all while raking in beaucoup bucks from the state. 

I grew up in the rural and evangelical Midwest and I was always well-aware of the fact that if I ever came out as gay, I would not be supported by my community. I was bullied in elementary and middle school for having mannerisms that weren’t “straight” enough, but, thankfully, my public school put a stop to it. 

Unfortunately, not every kid has the privilege of growing up in an environment where their school is willing to support the student when hate steps into the classroom — if a parent sends their child to a private school, there is no guarantee that they won’t experience discrimination, as there are no laws protecting them from religious or prejudicial discrimination. We’ll never know — unlike public schools, private schools operate under a veil of secrecy. 

The anti-trans and homophobic legislation actively considered by the legislature shows that they are out of touch with the majority of Arizonans. As controversy continues to grow regarding voucher programs, the Legislature has refused to protect private school applicants or students experiencing discrimination and bullying because of their sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or even if a student has a disability. 

Republican lawmakers have often stated that they want what is best for every student in Arizona. If they truly cared about what is best for every Arizonan student, why are they funneling public taxpayer dollars into openly discriminatory learning environments? 

Arizona’s students and families deserve support from the Legislature and the Arizona Department of Education. After all, they are supposed to hold schools accountable for their actions and ensure that every child is receiving the world class education they rightfully deserve to succeed academically and in their future careers. Next year, lawmakers must push legislation to protect all students because, at the end of the day, it should never be politically expedient to attack Arizona’s most vulnerable students and families.

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Arizona Mirror is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Arizona Mirror maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jim Small for questions: info@azmirror.com. Follow Arizona Mirror on Facebook and Twitter.