The Orlando Sentinel is campaigning against school choice in Florida by accusing Christian schools of anti-LGBT discrimination. A Jan. 23 article in the central Florida newspaper portrayed private, Christian K-12 schools in the state as “anti-gay,” suggesting they should no longer receive state tuition vouchers.
Larry Taylor, president of the Association of Christian Schools International, said the Sentinel and other news outlets are mischaracterizing school choice as always taking the form of vouchers. He estimated that nearly two-thirds of the 161,000 Florida students receiving tuition assistance through the state’s school choice programs got tax credit scholarships, not vouchers.
These programs offer assistance primarily to low- and middle-income families, but the scholarship the Sentinel criticized is a tax credit that does not involve taxpayer money. Florida offers tax credits to individuals and businesses that donate to school choice scholarship funds, which go directly to parents to pay for tuition.
Taylor also said the idea that Christian schools are anti-LGBT is inaccurate: “We don’t hate anyone.”
Without the tax voucher scholarships, many children—primarily those from low-income ZIP codes who can’t move to a neighborhood with a better school—will be forced to pursue other options for schooling.
A lawsuit challenging the program likely wouldn’t succeed. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2011’s Arizona Christian School Association v. Winn that such scholarships are private, not state expenditures. And the court may further insulate the programs from attack if it rules favorably in the pending Espinoza v. Montana Dept. of Revenue, which involves the applicability and constitutionality of Montana’s Blaine Amendment. Florida’s Blaine Amendment, like Montana’s, bars state funding of any religious organization.
But court action isn’t the only option. LGBT activists are attacking corporations that donate to the scholarship funds. Two of the largest banks in the United States, Wells Fargo and Fifth Third, ended their donations to Florida’s scholarship program after the Sentinel article. When African American and Hispanic parents criticized the decision, Fifth Third reversed course and agreed to continue its $5.4 million annual investment in school choice, and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, praised the bank’s shift.
An October 2019 study by Cardus, a Canadian think-tank, found that private schools measurably contribute to public education. Evangelical Protestant schools in the United States tend to produce graduates who are civically engaged and financially generous, and Catholic students are more likely than an average American public schooler to have a more racially diverse friend group.
“We know that education doesn’t have power in itself, that only the power of God can transform a heart or mind,” Taylor said. “Yet education provides hope for kids who are underprivileged and from high poverty areas.”