A state program in Georgia that turns tax credits from donations into scholarships has been criticised for funding private schools with policies that discriminate against LGBT students.
The scheme is run in 11 US states but has come under fire in Georgia due to the high number of religious or anti-LGBT schools that benefit from the scholarships in the state.
At least 115 private schools in Georgia have “severe” anti-gay policies, says a report by the Southern Education Foundation released earlier this month. Many reserve the right to expel any student who is openly gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender.
The 115 schools include Shiloh Hills Christian School, Kennesaw, which deems that a male student can be expelled for saying “I like boys” or “I am a homosexual” .
There is also Woodstock-based Cherokee Christian Schools, which states in its policy that “Homosexual behavior, whether an ‘immoral act’ or ‘identifying statement,’ is incompatible with enrollment at Cherokee Christian Schools and is a basis for dismissal.”
Opponents of the scheme say the tax credits are being used wrongly, as they fund organisations that do not adhere to state anti-discrimination laws.
Stephen Suitts of the Southern Education Foundation says that as many as a third of the schools benefitting from the scholarship money have anti-LGBT discriminatory policies, or promote a religious message that portrays LGBT people or acts as immoral.
Mr Suitts reported that public money was being used to “punish, denounce and even demonise students in the name of religion solely because they are gay, state that they are homosexual, happen to have same-sex parents or guardians, or express support or tolerance for gay students at school, away from school or at home.”
Democrat State Representative Stacey Abrams said: “We are circumventing our own public policy with public money.”
Supporters of the scheme say it saves government money by reducing the cost of scholarships for low-income children who want to attend private schools. As the scheme is available to all kinds of schools with a variety of policies it is not in itself discriminatory, they argue.
Claudia Hunt, admissions officer for Providence Christian Academy, said in defence of the scheme: “You can be a Jewish school. You can be a Muslim school. It’s the same as a Catholic school or if I wanted to go to an all-girls school or a homosexual school. That is why we are independent schools. We all have different missions.”