ORLANDO, Fla. — Florida State Rep. Anna Eskamani has filed that a bill that would require certain private schools to expand their non-discrimination policies.

  • Bill would affect private schools that take state funds
  • Comes in wake of reports of students expelled or turned away
  • State education commissioner says bill is not needed

House Bill 45 would require any private school that receives funding through one of the state’s voucher programs to have specific policies prohibiting discrimination based on a student’s “…disability, religion, sexual orientation, or gender identity.”

Private schools are already prohibited from discriminating based on a student’s “race, ethnicity, national origin, or gender."

House Bill 45, if passed, would expand private school policies to match those of public schools.

“We want to make sure we are not creating a separate but equal clause in our state that we are treating every kid the same and no child should be afraid to be their authentic safe,” said Eskamani, D-Orlando. “At the very least let’s make sure these schools are not discriminating and hand picking students.”

Eskamani said there have been instances to show where private schools are selectively discriminating against students.

A spokesperson for Florida Department of Education told Spectrum News there are 2,192 private schools participating in at least one of Florida’s scholarship voucher programs. The McKay, Gardiner, Hope and Florida Tax Credit programs specifically provided alternative educational access last school year for 145,894 students.

The programs last year provided nearly $1 billion ($990,142,638) in funds, primarily to private schools, although it should be noted that participants in the Gardiner scholarship program also include some home school students.

“The difference is that you’re receiving public dollars,” Eskamani said.

Florida Department of Education records show there are nearly 400 private schools in Central Florida that participate in at least one voucher scholarship program. More than two dozen of those schools told Spectrum News by email they have nondiscrimination policies in place that would already comply with the new law.

Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran also told Spectrum News on Tuesday that he is not directly in favor of the bill, saying it is redundant to his department’s efforts.

“I assure you, where they get state dollars they comply with disability requirements, they comply with discrimination policies,” Commissioner Corcoran said. “I think in many cases people are not fully aware of what statutes say and what compliances are and I think if they dug and looked, they would see across the board where the state is involved, we have compliance with anti-discrimination, we have compliance with making sure children with disabilities have the greatest opportunities for education. In fact, we lead the nation in opportunities in closing the achievement gap for children with disabilities.”

Eskamani said the purpose of the bill is to ensure that not even a single child falls through the cracks or faces discrimination at the cost of publicly-funded resources.

State Senator Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, has filed a companion bill, Senate Bill 56.

Efforts were made last year to pass similar language but was defeated in the Republican controlled Legislature.

Eskamani said this year there is more support, thanks in part to corporations that fund private schools facing more public pressure. Eskamani said notable companies, including hotel chains and insurance companies have provided funding to private schools, but have since pulled back in some cases if they object to a school’s policies.