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Roncalli Inspired Anti-Discrimination Bill Is Dead; Efforts Behind It Are Not

By Jeanie Lindsay, IPB News | Published on in Education, Government, Politics
Indiana Statehouse (FILE PHOTO: Peter Balonon-Rosen/IPB News)
Indiana Statehouse (FILE PHOTO: Peter Balonon-Rosen/IPB News)

Efforts at the statehouse to keep state money out of private schools that openly discriminate failed in the first half of the legislative session, but the lawmakers behind the proposals say they aren’t done focusing on the issue.

Roncalli High School in Indianapolis put guidance counselor Shelly Fitzgerald on leave last year because of her marriage to a woman. The private religious school receives state dollars through the school choice voucher program.

The situation inspired state Sen. J.D. Ford (D-Indianapolis) to file a bill aimed at keeping that funding out of schools that discriminate. His bill never got a hearing before a key legislative deadline this year, effectively killing the measure. But Ford hopes to change existing bills as the session continues, and keep the conversation alive.

“We don’t know exactly what those bills look like yet, but I’m optimistic for the second half,” he says.

Rep. Dan Forestal (D-Indianapolis) in the House hopes to accomplish the same goal as Ford. He offered an amendment to the state’s budget bill to include that language, after an earlier attempt on a different school-related bill failed.

Forestal said during a debate on his proposed budget bill amendment this week, that what’s happening at Roncalli is unacceptable.

“She pays tax dollars, those tax dollars go to vouchers, those vouchers go to Roncalli and Roncalli turns around and discriminates against Shelly Fitzgerald,” he says. “That is wrong.”

Republicans in the House voted down Forestal’s budget amendment. Many have said students and parents already decide which schools receive voucher money.

But he says he’s not giving up, and plans to force a vote on the issue whenever he can on other bills related to schools and school funding as they move through the General Assembly.

“I’m going to keep bringing it up,” he says. “I’m going to continue to make [Republicans] make that vote.”

Both chambers face another key deadline next week to keep other measures alive, and the House plans to vote on the state budget bill Monday.