How School Privatization Opens the Door for Discrimination

Recent reports on discrimination in private schools have led some observers to decry the fact that private and charter schools receiving public tax dollars selectively exclude some populations from both employment and enrollment; others, however, note that in these and similar instances the schools have broken no laws. Both may be right. How can this be? To answer that question, this policy brief analyzes discrimination in an era of education privatization. The brief’s review of relevant laws reveals that voucher and charter school programs open the door to discrimination because of three phenomena. First, federal law defines discrimination differently in public and private spaces. Second, state legislatures have largely neglected issues of discrimination while constructing voucher laws; charter laws are better, but they fail to comprehensively address these issues. Third, because private and charter schools are free to determine what programs to offer, they can attract some populations while excluding others. After briefly examining the history of discrimination in schools, the brief analyzes each of these three enabling factors and then outlines recent developments. Finally, based on its analyses, the brief offers recommendations to help address the issue of publicly funded programs that are currently failing to serve all segments of the public.