TALLAHASSEE — Two major banks are ending their financial support of Florida’s private school voucher program because of reports of discrimination against LGBTQ students.
The Ohio-based Fifth Third Bank tweeted its announcement Tuesday evening, in response to a state representative who had tagged the company in a separate tweet about their contributions to the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program. That program allows companies to make donations, which are deducted from their taxes, to fund private school vouchers for lower-income students.
Wells Fargo also decided to halt their donations to the program, according to a statement the company issued to NBC News.
An Orlando Sentinel analysis of 1,000 private religious schools that accepted the state-funded vouchers found that 83 of them have policies barring LGBTQ students, or, sometimes, the children of LGBTQ parents, from attending their schools. Seventy-three additional schools said being gay or transgender was sinful but didn’t say explicitly how that stance affected admissions, according to the Sentinel’s report.
“Marching in Orlando Pride while also funding anti-LGBTQ schools is NOT okay!” tweeted Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando, who tagged Fifth Third Bank’s account. Guillermo Smith is gay.
“We definitely stand with LGBTQ students and parents,” the bank tweeted in response. “We have communicated with program officials that we will not be contributing again until more inclusive policies have been adopted by all participating schools to protect the sexual orientation of all our students."
According to Smith, Fifth Third Bank would have donated $5.4 million.
Then news of Wells Fargo’s decision broke Wednesday evening, with the company saying: “We have reviewed this matter carefully and have decided to no longer support Step Up for Students,” the San Francisco-based bank wrote, referencing the nonprofit organization that administers the vouchers. “All of us at Wells Fargo highly value diversity and inclusion, and we oppose discrimination of any kind.”
However, according to Step Up, Wells Fargo had not donated to the program since 2014 anyway.
The banks aren’t the first companies to announce a halt to donations after revelations about private schools receiving state support despite having anti-LGBTQ policies. Rosen Hotels and Resorts also stopped their contributions because of the policies, the Sentinel reported in June.
Rosen operates nine hotels in the Orlando area and their hotels were the locations of choice for Gov. Ron DeSantis’ election night watch parties in 2018.
Two bills, House Bill 45 and Senate Bill 56, have been filed by Democratic lawmakers to prohibit private, religious schools that accept vouchers to have anti-LGBTQ policies. Smith tried to amend similar language onto a major education bill during the 2019 session, but was unsuccessful.