By Associated Press - Saturday, February 8, 2020

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) - A bank has reversed itself and says it will continue supporting a Florida private school voucher program, despite reports that some schools in the program discriminate against LGBTQ students.

After reviewing the program, Ohio-based Fifth Third Bank said in a statement that it believes it can continue to support the vouchers.

The bank said the continued support was conditioned on two changes. The bank will require an annual meeting with the school voucher program’s leaders. The bank also wants the program to create a “roadmap” that will help families of students receiving the state scholarships to better understand the policies of the schools they are choosing.

“This roadmap will include identifying issues parents may wish to consider in choosing a school and informing parents about how they may access school-specific information or policies,” said the statement from Fifth Third Bank.

The decision comes after an Orlando Sentinel investigation last month found that 156 private Christian schools with anti-gay views educated more than 20,800 students with tuition paid for by state scholarships. Of those, the report said, 83 refused to admit LGBTQ students or would expel them if their sexual orientation or gender identity were discovered.

The investigation also found that many companies with pro-LGBTQ policies had donated to the program in exchange for write-offs on their state tax bills. Among them was Fifth Third Bank, which contributed $5.4 million in 2018 to the program.

After the investigation was published, Fifth Third Bank sent a tweet to a Florida lawmaker saying it would stop contributions to the program “until more inclusive policies have been adopted by all participating schools to protect the sexual orientation of all our students.”

Wells Fargo said more than a week ago that it would pull its support for the school voucher program.

Florida Department of Education spokeswoman Taryn Fenske said in a recent email that the agency hadn’t been notified of any cases where a student had been denied entrance or expelled from a school based on their sexual identity.

“Rather, the article is intentionally blurring the line between the faith-based background of some schools, freedom of speech, and trying to suggest that those are equivalent to discrimination,” Fenske said.

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