Private schools in Pennsylvania were obligated not to discriminate against their employees based on gender, creed, color, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, in order to benefit from the Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) and the Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit (OSTC). Now, the nondiscrimination clause has been removed from guidelines governing private schools that receive money through tax credit programs. This removal came as a result of a coalition of private schools and lawmakers complaint that the nondiscrimination language violates state law.
Several religiously affiliated private schools around the state, like Dayspring Christian Academy in Lancaster County, were disturbed by nondiscrimination clause, precisely because it contained "sexual orientation, gender identity or expression". For them, the nondiscrimination clause was a “direct violation of Christian conscience” and they encouraged parents to contact their legislators. As a result, Governor Tom Wolf’s administration removed nondiscrimination language from the guidelines in May.
The whole problem occurred over a misunderstanding, according to the Governor's administration. In April 2016, Governor Tom Wolf signed an executive order that barred state agencies and “contractors doing business with the Commonwealth” from discriminating against employees based on the factors noted above. In January 2018, this language was incorporated into guidelines for organizations that benefit from the EITC and OSTC programs. As Radio.wpsu.org reports, EITC and OSTC programs are overseen by Pennsylvania’s Department of Community and Economic Development, which, according to administration officials, mistakenly thought the new executive order applied to organizations receiving school tax credit money. “This is really just a case of a simple administrative error,” said J.J. Abbott, spokesman for the Wolf administration. “DCED has been working to update their programs to comply with the governor’s non-discrimination executive order, which applies to contracts and grants, not tax credits.”
Administrative error or not, the nondiscrimination clause was protecting private school employees from discrimination. Now when it is gone the protection is weaker and these private schools can selectively root out LGBTQ people in the hiring process. It is also important to note that these schools are under no obligation to give students standardized tests or publish the results if students take them, so it turns out that these private schools are privileged in many ways. After the removal of the nondiscrimination clause private schools are under no obligation to play by the rules that apply to other schools, while at the same time they are receiving help from the government through tax credit programs.
Photo Credits: Florida Center for Instructional Technology