Rarely do we see businesses, small or large, voluntarily abandon a tax credit. When those tax credits are used to help low-income and inner-city kids escape failing schools and find a pathway to success, it’s even more surprising.
Several days before President Donald Trump called on Congress during his State of the Union Address to pass legislation providing a million students with an opportunity scholarships, the Orlando Sentinel published a lengthy investigative article detailing how corporations support these low-income families by way of the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program. Pushing more of an ideological agenda than straight reporting, the Sentinel suggests that the use of these funds by many religious schools is meant to be “anti-gay.”
I went to one of the school (whose mascot, ironically, happens to share a name with the Sentinel) on the list. My parents sent me to Christian school because they believed no education was complete without a thorough understanding of the Bible. If you’ve never been to one of the schools on the list, let me tell you what you will find there.
First, you will see students from every corner of America represented: Black, white, Hispanic, rich, poor, middle income. As a fifth grader, when I started attending Evangelical Christian School in Fort Myers, Florida, it struck me as completely ordinary that my classmates looked pretty much the same as any room I ever entered in America. Selma, my friend of Indian-American descent, was just Selma. We played football together during recess and tried not to get in trouble during lunchtime.
My school was very disciplined, growing out of a religious conservative tradition that valued respect for elders and one another. We stood to answer questions when called upon. We did not talk during the lunch hour or in the hallways. We wore uniforms. Mrs. Dunn, the headmistress, was feared by all, but it was clear she cared for her students.
And there was chapel and prayer and Bible study. In fact, by the time I got to high school, we had an entire class period dedicated to Bible. It was insightful: We studied not only the Scriptures that formed the basis of our faith, but also learned to appreciate and respect the differences of our faith with that of others’ faith.
Of course, we also studied math, science, literature, and the rest. Each class had a distinctive approach of not only mastering the subject at hand, but evaluating what our Christian worldview had to say about it. Before every baseball practice, Coach Kieffer would lead the team in a brief devotion drawn from the Bible and pray for us. I respected that man for his commitment to “the Man in the chair,” an empty chair meant to remind us that God is ever present, a help in time of need.
Florida’s tax scholarship program came about after I was out of school. Thanks to the Sentinel (the newspaper, not our mascot), I know that my alma mater receives scholarships through the Florida Tax Credit program to assist students to attend school. I believe there are families who have always wished to send their kids to a school that unashamedly teaches according to the Christian tradition but, for financial reasons, never could afford to do so.
But because of this newspaper article, fewer low-income families will have that choice. Wells Fargo, Wyndham Vacation Properties, Fifth Third Bank, and others pulled their funding. (Fifth Third, perhaps realizing the error, reversed that decision). Activists are hard at work trying to convince Waste Management, and others, to do the same.
Rather than let inner-city kids or low-income families from the rural areas of Acadia and Belle Glade pursue private education that meets the needs of their children, they would cancel their scholarship to score “woke” points with the Left. It’s a shame.
In 2018-19, over 104,000 students received scholarships because of this program. The typical student receiving the scholarship lives at the poverty line (roughly $29,000), has only one parent in the home, and struggles academically. Sixty-eight percent of them are Africa-American or Hispanic.
Wells Fargo, Wyndham, and others are literally taking money away from poverty-stricken, minority children and the Left is praising them for doing so. Why? In their mind (and that of the Sentinel), it is less risky to a child’s future to live in poverty, with one parent in the home, and continue to struggle academically than attend a Christian school.
Such hostility toward religion should have no place in Florida, the news room, or a corner office. Businesses are welcome to forgo whatever tax credits they want. If they want to pay more in taxes, I suppose we cannot stop them. Still, they should understand that the price of appeasing the Sentinel and other ideologues is a low-income child’s future.
Jeremy Dys (@JeremyDys) is Special Counsel for Litigation and Communications for First Liberty Institute, a non-profit law firm dedicated to defending religious freedom for all Americans. Read more at FirstLiberty.org.