News » Politics

State Won’t Pay for Anti-Gay Private Schools

by Conswella Bennett
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Thursday Feb 21, 2013

A bill that will that will prevent private schools that receive funding from Schools Scholarship Organizations from discriminating against students based on race, religion, national origin, sexuality or disability will be introduced this week in the Georgia House of Representatives.

Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver (D-Decatur), who is co-sponsoring the Anti-Discrimination Act, said the bill will be given a number by the end of the week. The bill is sponsored by Rep. Simone Bell (D-Atlanta), who is also a lesbian.

"The reason for the Anti-Discrimination Act is simple: Our state education dollars should not fund discrimination," said Bell when she introduced the legislation in the Georgia House of Democrats Caucus on Feb. 11.

Oliver echoed this sentiment during a Feb. 18 online interview with EDGE, saying that she wholeheartedly supports the Anti-Discrimination Act because she does not support "tax money being used to discriminate against families with a gay child."

According to Oliver, Georgia for years has been too lax in the oversight of the tax credit, and as a result there have been no standards for how scholarships are awarded. In other words, Oliver said that there have been no guidelines in place to prevent such discrimination from taking place.

The introduction of the bill comes on the heels of a report by the Southern Education Foundation released in January. The Foundation's report noted that the two sponsors of the legislation, State Representative Earl Ehrhart and State Representative David Casas, set up the tax credit scholarship program in the state in 2008.

"Ehrhart has an extensive public record of anti-gay work and Casas, supported the constitutional amendment in Georgia to ban gay marriage in 2004 when the Georgia General Assembly passed the ballot measure by an oversized vote," reads the report. "Both have sent their children to schools with severe anti-gay policies. But, Rep. Ehrhart alone has built his public career in part by advancing anti-gay measures in Georgia."

According to the report, "Georgia’s tax credit scholarship program has diverted more than $170 million in taxpayer funds to cover the tuition costs of students in private schools during the last four years."

"The program permits individual and corporate taxpayers to divert a portion of their state taxes -- a dollar-for-dollar reduction in taxes -- to provide public financing to private organizations called student scholarship organizations (SSOs)."

This program of educational tax credits is providing public financing to a large number of private schools in Georgia that have draconian anti-gay policies and practices. Many of these private schools explicitly condemn homosexuality on religious grounds and have procedures in considering student admission, scholarships, and discipline that identify and exclude gay students. The schools’ policies often state that being gay or declaring oneself as gay constitutes grounds for suspension or expulsion.

The report goes on to say that at least 115 private schools participating in the state’s tax-funded scholarship program have "explicit, severe anti-gay policies or belong to state and national private school associations that promote anti-gay policies and practices among their members. These schools constitute approximately one-fourth of all private schools that are currently affiliated with SSOs in Georgia’s tax-funded scholarship program."

The findings in the report go against the intended purpose of the scholarship program. Oliver said that the original purpose of the scholarship program was to help low-income children to have more choices of schools to obtain their education. The scholarships would help to cover or offset the cost of attending the private schools. But it seems just the opposite has been happening.

"The State of Georgia is supporting these anti-gay schools with more than tax money," reads the report. "Two of the seven associations that Georgia law recognizes to accredit private schools have anti-gay policies or practices that support their member schools’ practices."

As of yet, Oliver said they have not heard any feedback from any of the schools that would be affected by the bill if it is passed. But she suspects that they will, as work on the bill progresses. So far among members of the House, Oliver said that there has been a favorable response to the Anti-Discrimination Act.


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