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Tax Credits for Scholarships Raise Questions about Gay Discrimination at Christian Schools

Controversy grows in Georgia after report alleges that taxpayer money supports schools banning gay students.

A popular tax-credit program that funds scholarships for qualifying children to attend religious schools is causing controversy in Georgia after the Southern Education Foundation (SEF) published a report detailing the policies toward gays and lesbians of many private Christian schools that benefit under the program.

Such programs, which are growing, have previously faced controversy but been found constitutional. However, some have been accused of abusing the spirit vs. the letter of such laws.

According to the 17-page report, up to half of the participating schools–115 in all–employ anti-homosexuality policies or practices, and some even ban gay and lesbian students from attending. Steve Suitts, vice president of SEF and the author of the report, told the New York Times that the problem is public money "being spent by private educational institutions that 'punish, denounce and even demonize students in the name of religion solely because they are gay, state that they are homosexual, happen to have same-sex parents or guardians, or express support or tolerance for gay students at school, away from school or at home.'"

That could mean trouble for the program later this year when state representative Earl Ehrhart will propose to "increase the amount of state money allocated each year for the scholarships to $100 million," the Times reports.

Since it was enacted in 2008, Georgia's tax credit scholarship program has allotted more than $170 million in taxpayer funds to cover the costs for qualifying, low-income students to attend participating private schools.

Meanwhile, Virginia is set to enact a similar tax credit program this year. The Association of Christian Schools International announced plans to partner with its 120 member schools in Virginia to support the program.

CT has previously reported on the issues of private education and school choice, including how 41 states have introduced or passed such programs (though some face complaints of widespread misuse), as well as how the school-choice movement has pivoted from vouchers to tax credits.

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