Democratic lawmakers criticizing the state’s largest school voucher program over discrimination concerns say they plan to meet face-to-face with Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran this week. They spoke with him by phone with him last week.
Democrats, Rep. Anna Eskamani and Carlos Guillermo Smith have been getting some push back in their fight to stop private schools who receive state funding from discriminating against gay and transgender students. Some pro-school choice advocates say their campaign to pressure companies to withhold support for the Florida Tax Credit program will mean less money for low-income students to get scholarships. But the lawmakers argue schools who don’t accept students because of their sexual orientation or gender identity shouldn’t get public funds.
But the debate over the controversy seemed to escalate over the weekend when Eskamani was the subject of a meme on Twitter calling her a member of the KKK and showing her with a white hood over her head. She retweeted the image, saying it was a “low blow when ‘school choice’ people attack lawmakers for being KKK members.” The meme, which made little sense in the context of its argument, appeared to come from an account based in Wisconsin.
Late last week, ABC Fine Wines became the latest company to announce it will halt donations to the Florida Tax Credit Program until it prohibits schools from discriminating against LGBTQ and transgender students. It joined Wells Fargo, Fifth Third Bank, Cigar City Brewing and Wyndham Destinations in announcing decisions to halt donations to the voucher program.
A spokesperson for Step Up for Students, the scholarship-funding agency that administers most of the tax credit program, said Wells Fargo last gave a donation in 2018. He did not address the controversy over schools having anti-LGBTQ policies getting state funding.
The Orlando Sentinel recently reported that more than $105 million from the tax credit program went to more than 150 Christian schools with anti-LGBTQ policies last year.
Eskamani said she felt Corcoran understood the lawmakers’ concerns when they talked to him over the phone and does not want more companies to halt their donations.
“There’s two options before the state,” she said. “One is to pass legislation to ban this type of situation from happening. The other is to pass their own rule-making process.”
Corcoran would only describe the conversation as going very well. He did not respond to a question about whether state funds should go to schools with anti-LGBTQ policies. The Department of Education has not responded to several requests for comment on the issue.