Ga. Dems. aim to curb pub­lic funds for anti-gay pri­vate schools

Law­mak­ers re­act af­ter report shows some schools ban gay stu­dents

GA Voice - - News - By Ryan Watkins rwatkins@the­

Ge­or­gia House Democrats, in­clud­ing openly les­bian Reps. Si­mone Bell and Keisha Waites, held a pub­lic fo­rum at the Capi­tol Feb. 11 to dis­cuss six pieces of pro­posed leg­is­la­tion fo­cused on ed­u­ca­tion.

The pro­posed bills, four of which have al­ready been filed dur­ing the cur­rent leg­isla­tive ses­sion, in­cluded The Re­store & Build HOPE Act, the Anti-Dis­crim­i­na­tion Act, the Ed­u­ca­tion Trans­parency Act, the Par­ent Pro­tec­tion Act, the Drop-Out De­ter­rent Act and the End Cy­ber-Bul­ly­ing Act.

Two of the bills, the Anti-Dis­crim­i­na­tion Act and the End Cy­ber-Bul­ly­ing Act, specif­i­cally ad­dress con­cerns of LGBT vot­ers.

The Anti-Dis­crim­i­na­tion Act would en­sure that pri­vate schools that re­ceive fund­ing from Schools Schol­ar­ship Or­ga­ni­za­tions could not use pub­lic funds to­ward dis­crim­i­nat­ing against stu­dents based on race, re­li­gion, na­tional ori­gin, sex­u­al­ity or dis­abil­ity.

The bill, spon­sored by Bell (D-At­lanta) and co-spon­sored by Rep. Mary Mar­garet Oliver (D-De­catur), is a re­sponse to a re­cent report by the South­east­ern Ed­u­ca­tion Foun­da­tion which high­lighted a Ge­or­gia tax credit pro­gram, cre­ated in 2008 and man­aged by the Ge­or­gia Stu­dent Schol­ar­ship Or­ga­ni­za­tion, which al­lows Ge­or­gia tax­pay­ers to “do­nate” a por­tion of their an­nual state in­come tax for use at pri­vate schools to pro­vide schol­ar­ships to stu­dents in kinder­garten through high school.

Those “do­na­tions” are matched dol­lar-for­dol­lar with a tax credit on state in­come tax ― $50 mil­lion can be do­nated each year.

The bill has not yet been fi­nal­ized, but Bell and other Democrats hope to have some­thing put to­gether dur­ing this leg­isla­tive ses­sion. The ef­fort could take years to pass.

Speak­ing dur­ing the pub­lic fo­rum, Bell said a lack of trans­parency in how the funds are spent, plus a re­cent ex­posé pub­lished in the New York Times which showed how some pub­lic funds are be­ing di­verted to schools with bla­tant anti-gay poli­cies through the tax credit pro­gram, high­lights the need for ad­di­tional over­sight.

The ul­ti­mate goal, Bell said, would be to en­sure that no pub­lic monies are be­ing sent to schools that dis­crim­i­nate – for any rea­son.

“There are sev­eral rea­sons why this is im­por­tant to us, but at the end of the day, it’s very sim­ple,” Bell said. “Our state ed­u­ca­tion dol­lars should not be used to fund dis­crim­i­na­tion. The SSOs were pre­sented as schol­ar­ship pro­grams de­signed to help stu­dents es­cape from fail­ing pub­lic schools into pri­vate ed­u­ca­tion.”

That hasn’t been the case, Bell added.

“There have been numer­ous re­ports, specif­i­cally by the South­east­ern Ed­u­ca­tion Foun­da­tion, and most re­cently in the New York Times, that have shown tax­pay­ers’ dol­lars are get­ting to re­li­gious-based in­sti­tu­tions that specif­i­cally dis­crim­i­nate on the ba­sis of race, gen­der, na­tional ori­gin, re­li­gion, sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion or dis­abil­ity.

“There have been re­ports of ha­rass­ment. There have also been re­ports of stu­dents be­ing asked to leave schools. At the end of the day, pub­lic dol­lars should not fund this kind of dis­crim­i­na­tion and bias,” Bell said.

An­other of the pro­posed pieces of leg­is­la­tion, en­ti­tled the Ed­u­ca­tion Trans­parency Act (HR 221), would re­quire pri­vate schools that re­ceive fund­ing from SSOs to pro­vide de­tailed fi­nan­cial in­for­ma­tion on how that fund­ing is used, donor in­for­ma­tion and other fi­nan­cial in­for­ma­tion to en­sure a trans­par­ent process. Cur­rent law for­bids SSOs from hav­ing to dis­close such in­for­ma­tion, some­thing House Democrats hope to change.

Jeff Gra­ham, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Ge­or­gia Equal­ity, said this week that the statewide LGBT group is keep­ing an eye on any pro­posed leg­is­la­tion ad­dress­ing pub­lic funds be­ing di­rected to SSO pro­grams.

“We’re very con­cerned about tax payer dol­lars fund­ing pro­grams like this that af­fect LGBT youth,” Gra­ham said. “Whether there is a leg­isla­tive so­lu­tion de­pends on what we see in terms of lan­guage or whether there is any Repub­li­can sup­port for it.”

Ge­or­gia’s House Repub­li­cans hold a solid ma­jor­ity. Pass­ing any leg­is­la­tion re­quires Repub­li­can sup­port, Gra­ham said.

“Just be­cause sup­port might not be there, doesn’t mean it’s not an is­sue or not wor­thy of de­bate,” he added.

Fight against cy­ber-bul­ly­ing

Waites, the new­est openly gay mem­ber of the state leg­is­la­ture, also an­nounced her bill, HB 19, the Drop-Out De­ter­rent Act, which would raise the age re­quire­ment from 16 to 17 for a stu­dent to drop out of high school with­out parental con­sent.

“It is our be­lief by ex­tend­ing the child’s stay in school, we are in­creas­ing their like­li­hood of em­ploy­ment and be­ing a pro­duc­tive cit­i­zen,” Waites said. “Ac­cord­ing to the De­part­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion, high school drop outs are twice as likely to live in poverty, as well as to com­mit crimes.”

The End Cy­ber-Bul­ly­ing Act, which was in­tro­duced on Feb. 13, would ex­pand on an­tibul­ly­ing ef­forts en­acted dur­ing the pre­vi­ous leg­isla­tive ses­sion. Cur­rent law only pro­tects stu­dents against in­stances of bul­ly­ing on school prop­erty. The pro­posed leg­is­la­tion would ex­pand the cur­rent law to in­clude in­stances of bul­ly­ing on so­cial net­work­ing sites, cell phones and PDA de­vices.

State Rep. Si­mone Bell (D-At­lanta), the first openly les­bian African-Amer­i­can state law­maker in the coun­try, is spon­sor of the Anti-Dis­crim­i­na­tion Act. (File photo)

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.