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The Democrats say they're hopeful that change is coming.

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House Democrats hopeful about changes to school voucher program

The Democrats say they’re hopeful that change is coming.

Democrat lawmakers introduced amendments to the House budget Wednesday to prevent discrimination against certain groups of students in schools that participate in the Florida Tax Credit Program. 

Reps. Carlos Guillermo Smith and Anna Eskamani offered the amendments, but then withdrew them, saying they had trust in the process and were hopeful that the conversations happening among leaders in the Legislature and the DeSantis administration would lead to change.

Smith’s amendment would have required voucher-funded private schools to establish a written policy prohibiting discrimination in student enrollment and admissions on the basis of sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, race, religion and hair styles.  

Smith said the amendment was narrowly focused on admissions because he believes that schools that receive state funding should not be allowed to reject students for being gay or transgender. He said many of these policies still remain on the schools’ websites. It also addresses hairstyles, which has been historically associated with black students who have singled out for wearing braids, dreadlocks and other styles.  

He said he was offering the amendment because of the controversy, which began after the Orlando Sentinel found 83 religious schools who accept voucher funding had policies where they would refuse to admit LGBTQ students or could expel them if their sexual orientations or gender identities were disclosed. Companies such as ABC Fine Wines, Fifth Third Bank, Wells Fargo, Cigar City Brewing and Wyndham Destinations have paused their donations in the past two weeks. Fifth Third Bank has since returned to the program after they said their concerns were addressed.

Pastors and lawmakers of color have also argued that the loss of donations from companies hurt the chances of low-income brown and black children to go to the schools of their choice.

Eskamani’s amendment added public schools and charter schools to Smith’s amendment. 

Smith said he feels confident that requiring religious schools that accept state funding have non-discrimination policies would survive legal challenge. But he said he believes the amendment brings everyone back to the table for a productive dialogue.

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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