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Orlando Sentinel Calls Out Unregulated Charters for Anti-LGBT Discrimination

January 26, 2020

The Orlando Sentinel’s Scott Maxwell describes the ever-expanding list of deplorable consequences that result from the increase in the number of deregulated charter schools in Florida. In an op ed article titled “Not welcome: Gay students, parents are denied service in Florida’s publicly funded voucher schools“, Mr. Maxwell offers this synopsis of mismanagement that results from Florida’s commitment to deregulating its public schools:

In their “Schools without Rules” series, reporters found voucher schools forging safety reports, using factually incorrect curriculum and hiring unqualified teachers — some who hadn’t even finished high school.

Yes, high school dropouts teaching school … underwritten with public money.

They found voucher schools that stiffed teachers out of paychecks and some that shut down in the middle of the school year, stranding students.

Berate public schools all you want. There will never be a day when you take your child to a public school only to find it’s gone out of business.

The reporters found administrators accused of fraud, teachers accused of abuse, loads of problems — all of it swept under the rug by politicians who demonize public schools while promoting “school choice.”

Mr. Maxwell notes that while charter schools lack regulations for accountability the public schools must continue to meet state guidelines. The result is that the press— the “enemy of the state” in the parlance of the current POTUS and his party, which controls Florida at this point— is the only source for uncovering and reporting mismanagement in the otherwise unregulated schools. The most egregious findings, though, have less to do with financial and hiring practices. They have to do with discrimination:

Some voucher schools do great jobs. And many welcome all children, regardless of race, faith or sexual orientation. This includes some Christian and faith-based schools that not only welcome LGBT students but teach students that discrimination against anyone is wrong.

But others discriminate — not only against LGBT students, but also students with even mild disabilities.

If these kids were denied admission because they were black, it would be illegal — and politicians would be outraged.

But Florida green-lights discrimination against LGBT citizens. In hiring. In housing. And yes, in schooling.

And Gov. Ron DeSantis and leaders in the Republican-controlled Legislature are fine with it.

They say the state doesn’t directly fund discrimination, since parents choose the schools. But the state chooses which schools are allowed to take the vouchers.

The politicians also say people of faith should be free to discriminate if that’s part of their belief system.

People used to make similar arguments for racial discrimination. In defending a 1965 ban on interracial marriage, a Virginia judge declared in 1965 that God “did not intend for the races to mix.

Discrimination was wrong then. It is wrong now.

It’s especially wrong when underwritten with tax dollars.

Mr. Maxwell has reported on this anti-LGBT discrimination before… and the rebuttal he received was astonishing and discouraging:

When I first wrote about this issue last year and identified schools that refused to accept LGBT students, Step Up For Students — the nonprofit that made about $18 million administrating vouchers that year — went on the attack, claiming I was trying to hurt “disadvantaged children.”

The group’s president, Doug Tuthill, penned an op-ed that tried to downplay the issue, claiming Step Up found only 38 schools with anti-gay discrimination policies.

Oh… Presumably if there are “only” 38 schools discriminating it’s an acceptable practice. And even more mystifying is how discrimination against students based on their handicaps ISN’T hurting “disadvantaged children”… but maybe Mr. Tuthill means economically disadvantaged children. Presumably it is OK to discriminate against LGBT students and handicapped students as long as one doesn’t discriminate based on economic background.

Mr. Maxwell sums up what these pro-voucher organizations need to do if they are going to accept public funds:

What Step Up should do is back legislative efforts to ban discrimination against the disabled, against LGBT families, against people of different faiths — against anyone.

And they should welcome more accountability and standards in general, to make sure children are actually being educated at these publicly funded schools — just as Florida already demands of traditional schools.

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