Education minister plans to protect subsidies for single-sex schools

Funding for boys- and girls-only education threatened by Supreme Court decision

Education Minister José Ignacio Wert took one more step this week in defense of state-subsidized schools that teach boys and girls separately. Most of these schools belong to the Roman Catholic organization Opus Dei.

Wert, of the conservative Popular Party (PP), is ready to change the law if necessary to ensure that these private schools (known in Spain as colegios concertados) continue to receive state funds.

The minister's intention is to protect 70 boys-only and girls-only schools from two Supreme Court decisions that establish that existing education legislation, the LOE, does not allow this type of learning center to receive public funding.

It was the former Socialist administration that approved the LOE in 2006; José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero's government also drafted an explicit ban on public funding of schools that separate by gender, but this legislative initiative never made it to parliamentary approval.

Most of these schools belong to the Roman Catholic organization Opus Dei

Faced with so many legal and political ups and downs, Joan Curcó, director of Fomento de Centros de Enseñanza - the Opus-related association that most of these schools belong to - asked that the Constitutional Court have the final say over the issue.

Curcó admitted that there is a possibility that the PP government will simply change the education law to accommodate these schools' request to keep receiving public funds; after all, it has been a Spanish tradition for the party in power to undo the education reforms of the previous government. But Curcó also noted that uncertainty over the issue would flare up again when the political make-up of the executive changes. But it would be complicated right now for the government of Mariano Rajoy to absorb the impact of eliminating all references to gender-based discrimination.

The Supreme Court based its rejection of public subsidies for single-sex schools on Article 84.3 of the law that the PP is now considering reforming. This article establishes that at public schools and private schools receiving public funding, "under no circumstance will there be discrimination based on birth, race, gender, religion, opinion or any other condition." The Supreme Court feels that admitting just girls or boys is discriminating against the other gender.

In an interview on SER radio station, Wert revealed his plans, which involve finding a way around the legal hurdle without really changing the law: "It is not necessary to alter the description of the unacceptable causes of discrimination. It is possible, however, to make an explicit reference to the fact that this kind of educational offer, in certain conditions, does not constitute gender discrimination or segregation," he said.

In other words, what the ministry would do is to include a paragraph establishing that education that separates by gender does not imply discrimination at school, and so the subsidies may be continued.

Wert also admitted that everyone will be waiting to see what the Constitutional Court says, although that decision will be a long time coming. Meanwhile, the minister hopes that his change to the LOE will get underway in the coming months.

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