Citing Changes, Fifth Third Will Continue Donating to Florida Program That Funds Anti-LGBTQ Schools

The bank says the Florida scholarship program has agreed to changes that will provide greater transparency to parents of low-income students who might attend participating schools

Fifth Third's Cincinnati headquarters - Wikipedia
Fifth Third's Cincinnati headquarters

Cincinnati-based Fifth Third Bank announced it will reverse a decision to pull donations from a state-run Florida program that gives corporate donations to low-income students so they can attend private schools, some of which have explicitly anti-LGBTQ policies.

Fifth Third announced it was pulling out of the scholarship program in a tweet Jan. 28 after a newspaper report revealed that some of the schools it funded had those policies. 

Now, however, Fifth Third says it will continue to donate under certain conditions that the program has agreed to, including providing parents clear explanation of participating schools' policies and a yearly evaluation of the program's transparency.

"Fifth Third is committed to supporting education and our communities," the bank said in a statement. "We support families and their right to choose the best school for their children."

The Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program pays for low-income students to attend private schools in the state. Companies can donate to that program, and in exchange, they get the value of their donation written off on their taxes. Hundreds of national companies, including Fifth Third, have donated. 

Last month, the Orlando Sentinel revealed that about 156 of the 2,000 private school campuses that benefit from the program have explicitly anti-LGBTQ policies. More than 80 of those schools have policies that state gay or transgender students can be expelled from or denied enrollment in those schools. Others simply teach that being gay or trans is wrong or a sin.

Those schools educated about 20,000 students last year, according to the report.

That revelation has led to outrage from some in Florida, including Democratic State Rep. Carlos G. Smith, who called out Fifth Third Bank specifically in a retweet of an editorial by the Sentinel

"'Companies have the same choice in front of them,' " Smith quoted from the editorial. "'People are watching to see what they do. Or what they don’t do.' That means YOU @FifthThird bank. Marching in @OrlandoPride while also funding anti-LGBTQ schools is NOT okay!"

The bank disclosed its decision to pull donations to the program next year in response to that tweet. Fifth Third donated $5.4 million to the voucher program in 2018. 

"Thanks Rep. Smith for your feedback," Fifth Third Bank's official account tweeted. "We definitely stand with #LGBTQ students and parents. We have communicated with program officials that we will not be contributing again until more inclusive policies have been adopted by all participating schools to protect the sexual orientation of all our students. (And, we will see you at the next @OrlandoPride!)."

Wells Fargo Bank also decided to pull donations to the program. 

Not everyone was happy about the banks' decisions.

"Cowards," one Twitter user wrote. "You are hurting the children of poor families by denying them access to better schools. You are giving into threats by a vocal minority who can't stand anyone thay (sic) doesnt agree with them 100 percent. Get ready. You caved on this and they will go after you now for more."

Others, however, were much more supportive.

"It's vital for companies to look at what schools they endorse and help fund," another person tweeted. "Schools that treat their LGBT+ students and community as sub-human shouldn't receive as much funding as they do. Unfortunately, money is power, and these unsafe spaces don't deserve such power."

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