Debate Rages Over Vouchers, LGBTQ Policies

Debate Rages Over Vouchers, LGBTQ Policies

By Ana Ceballos, The News Service of Florida

TALLAHASSEE — U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio said Monday a decision by Wells Fargo and Fifth Third Bank to pull contributions to a Florida school-voucher program is a “publicity stunt aimed at earning wokeness points with the radical left.”

The banks announced last week that they would stop sending money to nonprofit organizations that administer the program after an Orlando Sentinel investigation found at least 156 private schools that took state-funded scholarships had anti-gay views or policies.

The newspaper found 83 of the schools refused to admit LGBTQ students or could expel them if their sexual orientations or gender identities were disclosed.

The report has sparked a heated debate among Florida state lawmakers, with some arguing private schools should not have written policies against LGBTQ students and others arguing in favor of religious freedom.

Rubio, a Republican who served as Florida House speaker before getting elected to the U.S. Senate, inserted himself into the debate Monday. He slammed the banks for hurting low-income students who benefit from Florida’s school-choice programs. Under the programs, students can use the vouchers to pay for tuition at private schools.

“(The banks) aren’t punishing the small handful of schools whose policies they don’t like. They are punishing the thousands of underprivileged parents and students who may lose the chance to attend a school they otherwise couldn’t afford,” Rubio said in a statement.

State Rep. Byron Donalds, a Naples Republican who is running for Congress this year, has also launched attacks on social media against state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, an Orlando Democrat who is calling on the Florida Department of Education to ban written policies that single out gay students.

“Religious liberty is constitutionally protected everywhere! You want equality regardless of religious liberty. This is why you’re targeting donors of the scholarship program and hurting poor families in the process,” Donalds tweeted Sunday.

Smith, who is gay, tweeted Sunday he disagrees with people who “insist religious freedom and respect for LGBTQ students cannot co-exist.”

Ryan Petty, who Gov. Ron DeSantis recently appointed to the State Board of Education, has also jumped in on the debate, accusing the Orlando Sentinel reports of being “anti-school choice activists.”  

“It’s just a coordinated attack on school choice, religious freedom & the most vulnerable & deserving students. It’s bigotry carefully packaged as tolerance,” tweeted Petty, whose 14-year-old daughter Alaina was killed in the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Meanwhile, the Florida African American Ministers Alliance is scheduled to hold a news conference Tuesday at the Capitol to “denounce attacks” on the scholarship program, a press release said.

The debate centers on the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program, which is a major part of the state’s school-choice system. Under the program, businesses receive tax credits for contributing money to nonprofit organizations that, in turn, provide scholarships to students to attend private schools.

Step Up for Students, one of the two nonprofit organizations that helps administer the program, told The News Service of Florida last week the organization has seen “no evidence” of students being denied enrollment or expelled from private schools “due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.”

Regardless, Wells Fargo and Fifth Third Bank said last week they have taken the time to review the matter and decided to stop contributing to the school choice program.

Wells Fargo said that after reviewing the matter “carefully” it decided to no longer support Step Up for Students.

“All of us at Wells Fargo highly value diversity and inclusion, and we oppose discrimination of any kind,” Rosanna Fiske, a spokeswoman for the bank, said in a statement.

Fifth Third Bank did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but in a tweet last week the bank said it stands with LGBTQ students and parents and will stop contributing to the school-voucher program.

Patrick Gibbons, a spokesman for Step Up for Students, said Fifth Third Bank is not a donor to Step Up for Students. He said the bank is a donor to AAA Scholarship Foundation, another organization that helps the state administer vouchers. AAA did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The impact the banks are having on Florida’s school-voucher program remains unclear.

In the last year, though, Gibbons said decisions by companies to pull contributions has cut down on the number of scholarships that can be distributed.

For instance, Rosen Hotels & Resorts stopped contributing last year. The hotel chain’s last contribution of $150,000 provided 20 vouchers to students through the Tax Credit Scholarship program, Gibbons said.

In the 2019-20 school year, there were 108,570 vouchers funded through the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program, according to data from the Florida Department of Education.

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9 Responses to "Debate Rages Over Vouchers, LGBTQ Policies"

  1. Avatar
    Arie Wellner   February 3, 2020 at 7:37 pm

    Since when discrimination is protected by freedom of religion? This is hypocrisy at it’s purest.

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Jason   February 4, 2020 at 5:26 pm

      While govt should not be allowed to discriminate for any reason; private citizens and businesses should be allowed to. We all do it all the time anyway. A private school (or any business) shouldn’t be forced to engage in commerce with anyone they don’t want to.
      Unfortunately, we currently have it completely backwards. Somehow govt is allowed to discriminate (affirmative action, state universities discriminating against Asian and white students based on ethnicity) while private citizens are punished for it.

      Reply
  2. Avatar
    Maggie   February 4, 2020 at 9:42 am

    At Fairview Middle Scott Hansen treated students like this without any sensitivity. Scott is a BIG Rocky supporter, please get a comment on this from Rocky.

    Reply
  3. Avatar
    TONY   February 4, 2020 at 10:16 am

    Stop using Tax Dollars for School Vouchers.

    Reply
  4. Avatar
    jeremy brown   February 4, 2020 at 10:51 am

    I’m trying to figure out why we using voucher for private school. I thought private school you pay for it out your pocket. That’s the reason why it’s private.

    Reply
  5. Avatar
    Not Surprised   February 4, 2020 at 12:08 pm

    While I sympathize with the idea of vouchers for low income school choice recipients this is not surprising in the least. My child goes to private school because I don’t want them indoctrinated by Godless leftist public schools. This article is the primary reason I never supported vouchers. These vouchers will and can be used as a vector of attack by the government to force private schools to adopt a pro-sodomy agenda. This article proves it in spades. These private schools will inevitably fall in line for the government voucher money and sell-out their moral values. Republicans will not be in power all the time and Democrats have proven time and again where their loyalties lie, with Satan. You better believe they will attach all sorts of vile strings to voucher money once they gain power back. Drag Queen Story Time mandated for all private schools receiving voucher money. Think I’m joking? Just look how far we’ve sunk in 10 years, never mind the past 50-60 years. And don’t even start with the despicable virtue signaling of these disgusting corporations who can’t get woke enough out of fear of the Sodomite Mafia.

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Dan S.   February 4, 2020 at 3:09 pm

      Have you ever considered just loving your children unconditionally and not worrying so much about who they might decide to be in a relationship with someday?

      Reply
  6. Avatar
    Jason   February 4, 2020 at 5:13 pm

    Just get rid of public schools altogether. They’re the worst schools in every county anyway – part daycares and part indoctrination centers.
    Return to the citizens their tax dollars and allow private schools to compete. Whenever you have govt control of anything you have abysmal quality, bloated cost, inefficiency, and unfairness.

    Reply
  7. Avatar
    samantha albers   February 14, 2020 at 6:30 pm

    A very crooked bank, Wells-Fargo is now “woke” but they were not when defrauding the country and it’s share holders. The woke are now a snake eating it’s tail. This will all be over soon. The woke have painted themselves into a corner they cannot sustain.

    Reply

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