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Wells Fargo, Fifth Third Bank end donations to Florida school voucher program after reports of anti-gay policies

Wells Fargo, Fifth Third Bank end donations to Florida school voucher program after reports of anti-gay policies
© Greg Nash

Two of the country’s largest banks have ended their donations to a Florida private school voucher program after an investigation by the Orlando Sentinel revealed some of the schools it supports discriminate against LGBTQ students. 

Wells Fargo confirmed on Wednesday that it will no longer give money to the program. 

“We have reviewed this matter carefully and have decided to no longer support Step Up for Students," Wells Fargo said in a statement to The Hill. "All of us at Wells Fargo highly value diversity and inclusion, and we oppose discrimination of any kind."

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Fifth Third Bank also dropped participation in Step Up for Students after being called out by state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith (D) on Twitter. 

“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," the bank posted. 

The Orlando Sentinel investigation published last week discovered that Florida taxpayer money funded 156 private Christian schools that hold anti-gay views and educate more than 20,000 students. It found that 83 of the 156 schools don’t allow gay students, and some don’t allow students whose parents are gay. 

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"That means at least 14 percent of Florida's nearly 147,000 scholarship students last year attended private schools where homosexuality was condemned or, at a minimum, unwelcome,” the newspaper reported.

The paper’s editorial board called out five companies, including Fifth Third Bank and Wells Fargo, that have donated to the program over the years to get write-offs on their state tax bills in an editorial published Tuesday. Southern Glazer's Wine & Spirits, Waste Management Inc. and Geico were also named.

Southern Glazer's Wine & Spirits, Geico and Florida’s Department of Education did not immediately return requests for comment from The Hill.

Waste Management spokesperson Dawn McCormick said in a statement that the company is "committed to Inclusion and Diversity" and thinks any discrimination is "simply unacceptable."

"We are deeply concerned about the allegations and are investigating this issue before we make further funding decisions," she said.

Patrick Gibbons, a spokesperson from Step Up for Students, told The Hill in a statement that Wells Fargo has not contributed to the program since 2014. Gibbons also said the parents and guardians of the children can choose among 2,000 approved private schools in the state after receiving scholarships from the donors.

"The scholarship program itself is nondiscriminatory and serves 108,000 economically disadvantaged students in Florida, three-fourths of whom are black or Hispanic and more than half live in single-parent households," he said. "The average household income is about $25,000 for a family of four."

A Wells Fargo spokesperson said it has provided philanthropic grants to Step Up for Students from 2016 to 2019. However, it stopped supporting the tax credit scholarship in 2014, which previously gave the bank dollar-for-dollar tax credits for participating.

Smith tweeted at Fifth Third Bank after the staff editorial, saying “Marching in @OrlandoPride while also funding anti-LGBTQ schools is NOT okay!”

He later celebrated the company's announcement to end donations in another tweet. The Florida lawmaker says he is the state’s first LGBTQ Latin American legislator.

Updated: Jan. 30 at 4:15 p.m.

Updated: Jan. 30 at 5:10 p.m.

Updated Jan. 30 at 6:40 p.m.