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Educators: Private donations are 'public funds'

A campaign has been launched by the Southern Education Foundation against a proposal for a tax credit scholarship program in Georgia, and it is warning that “taxpayer funds” were going to be directed to private Christian schools with “anti-gay policies and practices.”

Only that isn’t true, a team of legal experts found.

The SEF, which opposes school choice legislation and called for Christian schools to be excluded from the program as long as they practiced their beliefs, had cited the claim that it was taxpayer funds going to the program, when in fact the scholarship funds come from private donations from individuals and corporations across the state.

The result was that the Alliance Defending Freedom dispatched a letter to Georgia legislators and Christian schools statewide to clear up the issue.

“No one should be ostracized because they don’t share the same sexual agenda as an activist group that opposes school choice,” said ADF Senior Counsel David Cortman.

“The Constitution protects the right of private, Christian schools to teach and follow biblical principles. Any efforts to prevent these schools from participating in the state’s tax credit scholarship program would violate the First Amendment freedoms of these schools and the students who attend them,” Cortman added.

Cortman explained that two recent Supreme Court decisions affirm such programs and private religious schools’ right to act consistently with their beliefs. He was referring to cases, Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization v. Winn (2011) and Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (2012).

The letter sent by ADF debunks the claim that taxpayer funds are being diverted to private schools, noting that donations are coming from individuals and companies around the state.

“SEF’s entire issue brief is grounded in its inaccurate claim that ‘Georgia’s tax dollars help finance private schools…,'” the letter explains. “The Supreme Court found no merit to such arguments [in ACSTO v. Winn], instead finding that ‘contributions [to scholarship organizations] result from the decisions of private taxpayers regarding their own funds.'”

“This activist group should not be allowed to stand in the way of great school choice programs like those in Georgia, Arizona, and many other states that are providing parents with real options to select the best education for their child,” said Legal Counsel Matt Sharp.

“Ironically, SEF, in preaching tolerance, is clearly intolerant of anyone who disagrees with its agenda. Rather than the current program, which is open to anyone, SEF wants to limit it to its cronies,” Sharp said.