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Wells Fargo joins Fifth Third Bank in halt of donations to school voucher program

The banks’ decision comes after reports some schools prohibit students because they or their parents are gay.

Wells Fargo is joining Fifth Third Bank in pulling out of Florida’s school voucher program because of discrimination some participating schools employ against gay students or parents.

The two companies decided to stop donating millions to Step Up for Students after the Orlando Sentinel found some of the schools discriminate against LGBTQ students. Fifth Third Bank made their announcement Tuesday.

A spokesman for SUS stated Wednesday evening that Wells Fargo has not contributed to the fund since 2014.

Orlando Democratic Reps. Anna V. Eskamani and Carlos Guillermo Smith, who advocate for LGBTQ rights, called out corporations they say are support anti-discrimination policies while donating to this scholarship program during a press event Monday. Advocates were at the Capitol to protest legislation they say is discriminatory.

“There’s a measure of corporate responsibility on this issue,” Smith said. 

Eskamani said the companies will often brag about their support of the Step Up for Students program when in Tallahassee lobbying for their bills. 

“You will hear during committee meetings a lobbyist advocating against a bill that impacts their industry say ‘We’ve donated x-number to Step Up for Students,’” she said. “They literally use this as a political maneuver to try to buy favors with the Republican caucus and here we are making the clear point about the ideology of convenience.” 

Smith said that Harris Rosen and others are petitioning the federal government to rethink their policies on allowing public money to go to these schools. First Lady Casey DeSantis, who was in Tallahassee earlier this month to make an announcement about new education initiatives, declined to answer whether state funding should go to schools with anti-LGBTQ views. 

Eskamani said she’s been hearing from constituents who want to know who the companies are so they can contact them to complain about their support of the voucher program. 

The Sentinel investigation has found that 156 private Christian schools with anti-LGBTQ views are getting taxpayer funding. Many of the companies participating in Step Up for Students have strong anti-discriminatory corporate policies that would conflict with the policies and practices of many of the schools they support. Eskamani and Democratic Sen. Darryl Rouson of St. Petersburg have both filed legislation to prohibit such discrimination in voucher schools.

Sentinel columnist Scott Maxwell tweeted Tuesday that Fifth Third’s move follows those of Allegiant Air and Rosen Resorts in pulling out of the program because of concerns over anti-gay discrimination policies. Rosen Resorts did so last summer after an earlier wave of news reports about anti-gay discrimination at some of the voucher schools.

Written By

Sarah Mueller has extensive experience covering public policy. She earned her bachelor’s degree in journalism in 2010. She began her career covering local government in Texas, Georgia and Colorado. She returned to school in 2016 to earn a master’s degree in Public Affairs Reporting. Since then, she’s worked in public radio covering state politics in Illinois, Florida and Delaware. If you'd like to contact her, send an email to sarah@floridapolitics.com.

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