Bank Reverses Course On Voucher Program After LGBTQ Concerns

Feb 7, 2020

Fifth Third Bank said Friday it will resume contributions to the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program, reversing course after saying it would stop contributing over concerns about vouchers going to schools with anti-LGBTQ policies.

The bank said it can support the program again, following a “comprehensive review of the program” and “detailed conversations” with management at AAA Scholarship Foundation, a nonprofit organization that administers part of the program.

The bank’s initial decision to end contributions came after an Orlando Sentinel investigation found more than 83 religious schools that accepted vouchers for low-income students had policies explicitly barring gay students from enrolling.

RELATED: Religious Leaders Ratchet Up Debate Over Voucher Schools

More than $105 million from the program, which is funded by corporations that receive state tax credits in exchange for their contributions, went to campuses with anti-LGBTQ policies last year, the Sentinel’s report found.

Fifth Third and other businesses that halted contributions after the report have faced fierce backlash from some Florida lawmakers, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, U.S. Rep. Al Lawson, former Gov. Jeb Bush and religious leaders.

School-choice advocates argued corporations were hurting low-income students, including many who are black or Hispanic, by stopping donations to the program. But state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando, and Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, argued no private school that receives the scholarships should be allowed to single out and discriminate against gay students in school policies.

Fifth Third said it can support the program again, while adhering to its “core values,” because AAA agreed to “develop a roadmap to help parents navigate the school selection and application process.”

That would entail helping parents identify “school-specific information or policies” at the schools they choose for their children, the bank said in a statement.

Incoming House Speaker Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor. applauded Fifth Third for “coming back to the table, listening to all voices and working through” concerns.

“This decision means that thousands of underprivileged, minority students will not have to give up their dream of a better future,” Sprowls tweeted on Friday.