Lecture: What are implications of public funding for private schools that discriminate?

Longtime Roncalli High School guidance counselor Shelly Fitzgerald was placed on administrative leave last year because she married her same-sex partner. This private religious school in Indianapolis receives millions in public funds through Indiana's state voucher program.

In Milwaukee, Wisconsin, students with disabilities constitute 12 to 20 percent of public-school enrollments but only 2 percent of enrollments in private schools participating in the city's voucher program. In Georgia, LGBTQ+ students can be expelled from some private religious schools that accept public dollars.

Situations such as these are raising questions about discrimination in private schools that accept public money through voucher programs or other types of programs. When public money goes to private schools that exclude some populations from employment and enrollment, what are the legal and policy implications?

Suzanne Eckes will address that question in the 2019 Distinguished Faculty Research Lecture, "The Potential for Discrimination in an Era of Education Privatization." The lecture takes place from 3 to 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 30, at Indiana University Cinema, 1213 E. Seventh St.

"As someone who studies education policy and as a former public school teacher, I'm concerned that state legislatures have largely ignored the issue of nondiscrimination while constructing voucher laws," said Eckes, who is professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies at the IU School of Education in Bloomington. "Without safeguards in place, states risk providing public money that can be used to promote discriminatory policies and practices in schools."

Eckes, a professor at IU since 2003, researches how civil rights laws influence education policy for marginalized populations in public schools. An expert in education law, Eckes is co-author or co-editor on numerous articles and books concerning legal rights and issues in education. Most recently, with co-author Julie Mead at the University of Wisconsin, Eckes published a policy brief examining the questions at the heart of her 2019 Distinguished Faculty Research Lecture.

"We're delighted to honor Suzanne Eckes," said Rick Van Kooten, vice provost for research at IU Bloomington. "Her research regarding how schools can improve access, equity and quality for many populations couldn't be more timely and important."

The Distinguished Faculty Research Lecture series is co-sponsored by the Office of the Vice Provost for Research and the Office of the Provost and Executive Vice President at IU Bloomington. Begun in 1980, this annual event recognizes the research achievements of an IU Bloomington faculty member and is accompanied by a $5,000 award to support the distinguished lecturer's continuing research. Past awardees include Elinor Ostrom, Richard DiMarchi, Ellen Ketterson and Jeffrey White.

Lauren Bryant is the associate director of research development communications in the Office of the Vice Provost for Research at IU Bloomington.