Some scholarship money generated through a Georgia tax credit program has been used at religious schools that ban gay, lesbian and bisexual students, according to a report released this month.
Two of the schools mentioned in the report from the Southern Education Foundation, an Atlanta education policy group, are in North Cobb.
At Shiloh Hills Christian School in Kennesaw, the standard of conduct policy is clear. A student who says “I am gay,” “I am a homosexual” or “I like boys” will be expelled.
"We are who we are," administrator John Ward said Tuesday afternoon. "We're very open about who we are. There's nothing secret about who we are and what we stand for."
And North Cobb Christian School in Acworth "reserves the right to refuse admission to an applicant or to discontinue the enrollment of a student if the conduct within the home or the conduct of the student is in opposition to the biblical lifestyle taught by the school," according to its website. "This includes sexual immorality, homosexual orientation or inability to support the moral principles of the school."
While North Cobb Christian officials did not respond to a request for comment, Shiloh Hills' Ward said his school has never had to expel or deny admission to students based on sexual orientation during its 33 years of operation.
The Southern Education Foundation does not take issue with the policies of schools such as Shiloh Hills and North Cobb Christian. They have a constitutional right to believe whatever they want to believe and to operate their private affairs in accordance with those beliefs, the foundation said.
But schools that "exclude, condemn, and demonize students for who they are and who they accept in their lives" should not receive public funds, the foundation wrote in its report. "Tax dollars should go to schools that educate all students. That is the promise and virtue of our democracy."
Ward disagrees with the first part of the foundation's assessment.
"To say that we have no right to that (money), we didn't set the law up," he said.
Legislators in 2008 established a tax credit program to allow individual and corporate taxpayers to contribute to qualified student scholarship organizations and receive a dollar-for-dollar credit against their Georgia income tax liabilities. SSOs provide the funds to private schools for all or part of a student’s tuition.
Faith First Georgia in Marietta operates the SSO that makes it possible for needy students to attend Shiloh Hills. Business manager Sandra L. Chicoine said that the organization would respond later this week to the Southern Education Foundation's report, which has made national news.
The report does not list how much each school has received since 2008, and Ward said he would "rather not give an amount.
"... This is just a great opportunity for underprivileged or needy families to get into a private school that has a quality education."
While the amounts awarded to each school are unknown, more than $170 million in taxpayer funds have been set aside to cover the tuition costs of students in private schools during the last four years.
And the Southern Education Foundation knows of at least 115 private schools in the tax credit scholarship program that have severe anti-gay policies or belong to state and national private school associations that promote anti-gay policies, according to the report.
"Altogether, as much as one-third of all private schools participating in Georgia’s tax credit scholarship program may be governed by the schools’ explicit anti-gay policies or their church’s anti-gay statements of faith," according to the report.
And that count, according to the report, is likely an understatement.
Click here to read the full report from the Southern Education Foundation. It is also attached to this article as a PDF.