In a speech today announcing the legislative agenda and provided to GA Voice, Bell cited a recent study by the Southern Education Fund that reported Georgia tax dollars were going to religious schools that publicly ban gay and lesbian students.

“As the New York Times and Southern Education Foundation recently reported, Georgia has spent nearly $170 million on student scholarship organizations to fund private education with taxpayer dollars,” Bell said.

“Private schools funded by SSOs are not held to the same anti-discrimination standards as public schools, and reports of the harassment and banning of students based on bigotry is contrary to our legacy as a civil rights state,” she added.

“We do not allow our public schools to discriminate and violate a child’s civil rights, and we should demand the same of any private school that seeks state financing through the SSOs. We are introducing the Anti-Discrimination Act to protect the human and civil rights of Georgia’s children in every publicly funded classroom,” Bell said.

The tax credit program, created in 2008 and managed by the Georgia Student Scholarship Organization, allows Georgia taxpayers to “donate” a portion of their annual state income tax for use at private schools to provide scholarships to students in kindergarten through high school. Those “donations” are matched dollar-for-dollar with a tax credit on state income tax ― $50 million can be donated each year.

Some of that money, according to the Southern Education Foundation, ends up at religiously based private schools which expressly prohibit gay and lesbian students from attending and in some cases could see students suspended or even expelled if they vocalize support for LGBT causes.

In total, more than 115 of the private schools which participate in the program explicitly forbid gay and lesbian students from attending, according to the report. That’s roughly one-fourth of all the private schools in the program.

“We are circumventing our own public policy with public money,” State Rep. Stacey Abrams, House Democratic minority leader, told the New York Times.

“If this were to be happening at any public school,” she said, “the lawsuit would be great and the settlement extraordinary.”

Photo: The Georgia State Capitol. (by Dyana Bagby)

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