30 Jan House moves Hope Scholarships for bullied students
Opponents outnumbered supporters in the crowd but where it mattered most, among those with the power of the vote, HB 1 proponents had a 2-to-1 advantage. Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Naples, listened patiently while 21 citizens registered opposition to his idea to spend $40 million on private-school vouchers for bullied students.
“We are giving parents the information needed to make decisions that are best for their child,” Donalds told an education appropriations subcommittee after the public had a chance to testify. “That’s options. Those are choices. That’s what governing should be about, creating guidelines and creating a system where the people of this very state have the freedom to choose and to do and to grow and to succeed.”
The Hope Scholarship would provide money for an estimated 6,000 students in its first year to attend private schools if they are subjected to bullying at a public school. It would be funded by motorists making contributions when they buy a car. In exchange for the contribution, the buyer would receive credits on taxes they would otherwise pay on the purchase.
Step up for Students, a St. Petersburg nonprofit that administers the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program, a Colorado organization dedicated to public school choice, along with a parent and student spoke in favor of the program.
Public school teachers, labor unions, and others said the plan diverts “scarce” public dollars away from public schools and fails to address the issue of bullying. They urged lawmakers to reconsider and support programs that address the issue of bullying instead of writing a check and pulling students out of public schools.
“There is research-based training to address this problem that has shown to work,” said Angie Gallo of the Florida PTA. “We would like intervention programs so that no child is bullied. We want a sustainable solution – this is not it.”
Donalds’ bill has one more committee stop before it goes before the full House. The measure is a priority of House Speaker Richard Corcoran and has cleared two committees with a party-line vote total of 18 – 9.
The measure would take effect with the 2018- 2019 school year if it clears both chambers and is signed by Gov. Rick Scott.