Christian school at center of LGBT voucher debate
BLOOMINGTON, IND. | The Lighthouse Christian Academy promises to provide an exemplary education, a caring atmosphere and service to God — but not for everyone.
The school says in its admissions brochure that it reserves the right to deny admission to LGBT students because their lifestyle is prohibited by the Bible.
As the Trump administration seeks to expand school choice nationwide, the academy was thrust into the national spotlight last month as part of a heated debate over whether schools that receive money from taxpayerfunded vouchers can discriminate against certain groups of students, such as LGBT children or students with disabilities.
Lighthouse officials say they’ve never turned anyone away based on sexual orientation. But at a congressional hearing, Senate Democrats cited it as an example of a school that discriminates against LGBT students.
A Lighthouse brochure says the Bible does not allow homosexual, bisexual or “any form of sexual immorality” and if a student’s “home life” violates biblical rules, the school can deny them admission or expel them.
Pressed on the issue, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, an ardent supporter of school choice, told the Senate committee that discrimination is wrong, but that it was up to Congress and the courts, not her department, to intervene.
Founded in the early 1990s by a tight-knit group of families who wanted an affordable Christian education for their children, the academy is now an academically successful K-12 school serving 300 children in the Bloomington area. About half receive vouchers to help pay an annual tuition that ranges from $4,500 to $6,000 depending on a student’s grade.
This year, Lighthouse received over $665,000 in state funds to enroll 152 students.
Mrs. DeVos and the Trump administration are strong proponents of giving states a greater role in education. Earlier this year, the administration rescinded former President Barack Obama’s guidance that instructed to schools to let students use school restrooms in accordance with the gender they identify with, not their sex at birth. The move sparked criticism from the civil rights community.
The administration is looking at taxpayer-funded vouchers as a way to expand school choice nationwide, but it has not yet come out with a specific plan on how to do it.
Indiana is one of 30 states that use public money for school choice programs, including vouchers, educational savings accounts and tax-credit scholarships. The District of Columbia has the country’s only federally funded voucher program. All told, some 450,000 students participate nationally.
In a study last year, Indiana University professor Suzanne Eckes found that none of the states with voucher programs prohibits discrimination against LGBT students.
In its brochure, the Lighthouse Christian Academy says its reserves the right to deny LGBT students admission.