Under the fourteenth amendment to the United States Constitution, all individuals are required to “be given equal educational opportunity no matter what their race, ethnic background, religion, or sex, or whether they are rich or poor, citizen or non-citizen.”

Currently, many states in the United States of America are incentivizing parents to pull their children out of the public school system via voucher programs. To some, this seems like a good idea. Children are given a different opportunity to access education. At times, it can be highly beneficial. However, the act of privatizing education differs from ‘private education.’

In Florida, the voucher program “expressly authorizes any school in Florida, including public charter schools, to permit a student to enroll part-time and provides that the student will be funded proportionally based on their time of attendance,” according to a summary of House Bill One. Utah, on the other hand, is currently attempting to “roll-back” on the voucher program under the leadership of Governor Hobbs.

The voucher programs take public money and use it in private schools. Private schools differ from charter schools, as most charter schools receive public funds. This does not mean that federal funding is going directly to private schools, as some, especially religious schools, do not receive federal funding. Instead, the money is given to parents, who are then able to spend it on private education.

Many teachers —especially veteran teachers— have argued against the move to privatize education. These are teachers who have advocated on students’ behalf many times over the course of their careers as educators. These are teachers who have seen an increase in standardized testing. These are teachers who can see the dangers posed to students when private education becomes so much more prevalent than equitable, well-maintained, and well-staffed public schools. When this occurs, students who do not fit the mold enforced by the private schools fall to the wayside.

Many of these students are students of color, non-religious students, LGBTQIA+ students, and many feminine students. In a world of privatized education, inequity takes center stage.

To discuss the inequities of private education, one must first go back to the process of privatizing education. Privatizing education forces people to pay more to gain access to education. With incentives to further privatize education across the nation, educators and educational scholars can foresee issues wherein a severely underfunded public school system leaves the only choice to be a private school. Private schools tend to have steep tuition, religious restrictions, and/or serious issues of discrimination.

When governments push to privatize, schools lose regulations on what they can teach, who they can hire, and how they accept students. They can impose tuitions that keep people out of accessing what can be seen as “better” education, keeping students who do not have the monetary assets required. They can deregulate and bring in textbooks that promote harmful narratives in history.

Yes, there can be benefits of private schools, where students’ needs are met when they may not be met in the public school system, but when federal protections are removed, these schools allow for discrimination and discriminatory practices to fester and flourish.

Discrimination in private schools can go unnoticed. Federal laws don’t always apply to private education, and that means that federal anti-discrimination policies are not always abided by. One common discriminatory practice seen at private schools goes back to one of our biggest campaigns: discriminatory dress codes.

For example, at one private school in Maryland, Carroll Lutheran School, the dress code is divided into “girls” and “boys” dress codes. Outside of having policies that break off policies into groups based on gender identity, there are many more problems within the dress codes themselves.

The “girls’” dress code states that “hairstyles are to be neat and in good taste. Excessive haircuts are not acceptable,” language that is often used to signal discrimination against students of color of all genders, in addition to policies that list that lower garments (pants, shorts, skirts, and dresses) “must be no shorter than two inches above the knee.”

The “boys” dress code has additional policies that may discriminate against students of color and students experiencing poverty and/or homelessness, with instructions for keeping hair “neat and clean,” yet do not specify how they define “neat and clean” hair outside of a requirement for it to be short. By making any hairstyles that “extend below the top of the shirt collar or the top of the eyebrows,” hairstyles like locs, braids, or twists then become out of policy. Furthermore, the dress code states that “excessive haircuts or shaven configurations (ridge lines) are not permitted.” This dress code, found in Maryland, likely violates the CROWN act passed in the state.

Other issues within the “boys” dress code include policies that discriminate against gender non-conforming and LGBTQIA+ students with restrictions such as “no earrings or earring spacers, other piercings, or inappropriate jewelry are allowed,” in addition to “no makeup or nail polish may be worn during school or during activities sponsored by Carroll Lutheran School.”

All of these policies listed violate students. They discriminate against students on the basis of sex by foisting upon students a dress code that labels them as “girls” and “boys” instead of offering a blanket dress code that applies to all students. The policies discriminate against students on the basis of race by policing how students can style their hair, using language commonly found to discriminate against students of color. These policies discriminate against students on the basis of sexual orientation by reinforcing ideas that “boys” cannot wear makeup or use nail polish, or even wear dresses or skirts, as those clothing items are not even listed under the approved section for “boys.”

Additionally, the only way to purchase these uniforms is from an approved store. The least expensive item in the school store that is required and allowed on the school campus for an everyday class is twenty-seven dollars. This tactic discriminates against students who cannot afford the same articles of clothing as other students.

In yet another disturbing example, a religious private school in Florida that is eligible for a state-funded voucher includes these discriminatory policies:

“Hairstyles must be neat and modest with only natural color, must be above the eyebrow and above the collar. No mohawks or other designs may be shaved into the hair. No extreme styles are permitted. The administration reserves the right to deem any hairstyle a violation due to style or color.” This is yet another policy at a private school that discriminates actively against students of color.

“Earrings may not be worn on school property or at school activities,” and “boys… may not wear makeup.” As mentioned earlier, policies that directly target the wearing of makeup or jewelry on masculine-presenting students violate anti-discrimination policies that focus on discrimination on the basis of sex or gender identity.

Master’s Academy, another private school in Florida, also lists a “girls” dress code. The same exact hair policy applies, only strengthening the claim of discrimination on the basis of race. They implement policies that only include articles of clothing that are viewed as feminine for “girls.” One such statement is about skirt length. “Skirts may be no shorter than two inches above the mid-knee. As a girl grows, skirts will need to be lengthened.”

In regard to “chapel” attire, these policies discriminate on the basis of sex, clearly, by singling out what attire students are allowed to wear: “Boys are to wear uniform slacks (no shorts) with a uniform white oxford shirt and belt… Girls are to wear a uniform skort or skirt (no slacks or shorts) with a uniform white oxford shirt.”

In Utah, at Carden Memorial School, the dress code is divided once more into “girls” and “boys.” Girls do not have an option for pants, they can only wear shirts unless in physical education.

These are just three examples of discrimination found in private schools. The story is similar at many other private schools. These schools do not take federal funding, and as such, anti-discrimination policies (such as Title IX) do not often apply to them.

However, when states encourage voucher programs, students are directly sent into these environments. These environments often have many other issues, such as practices that harm students of color, gender non-conforming students, and LGBTQIA+ students. By encouraging parents to eschew public education for these private schools, state governments are directly responsible for supporting these injuries.

Across the United States, people need to strike back against the rush to privatize education. Everyone has the right to education. This is a right declared by the United Nations. Do not let state governments try to devalue public education. They are already taking our books. They are already punishing our students for daring to exist. They are already punishing our teachers for teaching history and literature and even math.

House Bill One in Florida is attempting to do this. The takeover of small schools in Michigan is attempting to do this. Voucher programs across the nation —in Utah, Texas, and Ohio— are attempting to do this. By privatizing education, people are in danger of losing their rights.

Do not let state governments try to take one more chunk out of public education. We will fight to fix this. We will fight against another effort to take away our rights.