Two identical bills filed in the Florida Senate and House, coupled with an investigation from a central Florida newspaper could cost a non-profit millions of dollars that they use to provide tax credit scholarships.
At the end of January, the Orlando Sentinel put out an article that named every private school in the state that espoused anti-LGBTQ views through materials like their student handbooks or website. Those rules could affect a student getting in or getting kicked out. In some cases, parents are subject to those same rules. In our area, 22 schools made the list.
- Bradenton Christian School
- Calvary Chapel School
- Calvary Christian High School
- Cambridge Christian School
- Covenant Academy
- Elfers Christian School
- Faith Christian Academy
- Grace Christian School
- Hernando Christian School
- Indian Rocks Christian School
- Lakeland Christian School
- Lakeside Christian School
- Landmark Christian School
- Land O'Lakes Christian School
- Odessa Christian School
- Parkway Christian Academy
- Pathways School of Excellence
- Seffner Christian Academy
- Seven Rivers Christian School
- Venice Christian School
- Westminster Academy
- Winter Haven Christian School
We reached out to every school on the list to see if they'd like to comment on the Orlando Sentinel's investigation. The schools never got back to us, told us no comment or were waiting for higher-ups to give them the green light to make a statement.
According to the Orlando Sentinel's data, more than 2,700 students receive vouchers to attend these schools. In all, these schools receive more than $16.7 million. Polk County had the most schools on the list with five. Pinellas and Pasco both had four. Polk County also receives the most money to support these students with $4,499,921.
After the investigation was released and more traction built up from lawmakers, including Florida State Sen. Darryl Rouson (D), big donors like Fifth-Third bank and Wells Fargo announced they would no longer support Step Up For Students, the non-profit that gives out 99.2% of the Florida Tax Credit scholarships. That's according to a Florida Department of Education report.
However, on Friday Fifth-Third bank reversed course and changed their decision.
Step Up For Students put out this statement:
Step Up For Students is dedicated to providing scholarships to disadvantaged Florida students to attend the school of their choice. We believe all children deserve the opportunity to attend a school that best fits their needs – especially our most vulnerable students who are lower-income, victims of bullying, have unique abilities, and those who identify as LGBTQ. Step Up For Students puts scholarships in parents’ hands to make the best decision for their children.
Please remember, this program serves economically disadvantaged students, most of whom are black or Hispanic. The average household income is just 8 percent above the poverty level and more than half of the scholarship students live in single parent households. The harassment of donors only harms these disadvantaged students. For every $1 million lost to the program that is 140 fewer scholarships that can be provided to students, most of whom are children of color.
According to Step Up For Students, there are 35,000 students waiting to take part in the scholarship program, but can't because of a lack of funds.