Florida House expands school vouchers without LGBTQ student protections

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This week the Florida House voted to expand the state’s voucher program for students attending private schools. But an Orlando Sentinel investigation found that dozens of the schools that get money from the program discriminate against LGBTQ students or their families. And an anti-discrimination amendment to the bill failed last week.

For reaction, WMNF spoke with Joe Saunders, senior political director of the LGBTQ rights group Equality Florida. He is a former State Representative from Orlando.

“We think it’s deeply troubling that the State’s voucher program has failed to address the very real reality that some of the schools that receive public education dollars for the state voucher program are openly discriminating against LGBT students and LGBT parents. This, over time, has grown into a program that receives hundreds of millions of dollars of public money. And having a policy that says your kind is not allowed here is not okay.

“It’s deeply troubling. It’s something that the legislature should have addressed. There were many opportunities to and many recommendations brought forward. And the failure of this legislature to address overt discrimination against LGBT students in the education system is deeply troubling.”

SK: So, if this bill gets signed by the Governor, it could happen where a school can say, ‘We will expel a student who is LGBTQ.’ Or not take a student in yet still receive government funding?

“Well, the reality is that that is happening right now. This bill expands the state voucher program. It increases the cap on who’s eligible, in terms of income. But right now, this is a program that receives — even without the legislation that is moving to the governor after this session – it’s a program that receives hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayer money that would normally be going to public schools.

“The Orlando Sentinel was a big part of breaking this story a few years ago. But they’ve done some deep investigative analysis. And they found, at least, just in their analysis, 83 schools that overtly hold policies that threaten to expel a gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender young person if they are discovered to be LGTB and attending the school. So we know that the discrimination is happening right now. We know that it is a problem right now. And, what this bill does, is expand this program to even more students, and even more schools, without addressing these very serious problems within the system.”

Listen to much more of this interview here: