Florida Senate committee backs school vouchers for bullied students


Students who are victims of bullying or sexual harassment would be eligible for voucher-like scholarships to attend private schools under a bill approved Monday by the Senate Education Committee.

Sen. Bill Galvano, a Bradenton Republican who is sponsoring the legislation (SB 1172), said the “Hope Scholarship” program is designed to “empower” families when they find their children are victims of bullying or other incidents in the school system and they feel they are “in a situation in which they are trapped.”

“You want to stop the behavior,” Galvano said. “But you also want to empower the victim.”

»RELATED: The latest in Florida political news

Under the bill, students in the public kindergarten-through-high-school system could qualify for the scholarships if they are victims of 10 specific types of incidents, ranging from bullying and harassment to kidnapping and sexual assault.

In an amendment approved Monday, the bill would require school principals to investigate the incidents before deciding whether students would be eligible for the scholarships.

Victimized students would also have the option of transferring to other public schools, rather than opting for the private-school scholarships.

The scholarships and transportation would be funded by Florida motorists who voluntarily agree to contribute $20 to the program when buying or registering vehicles. The donations would act as a credit against the sales taxes they would normally pay in vehicle transactions.

The tax credit would result in an estimated $7.9 million going to the scholarship program in the 2018-19 academic year, according to legislative analysts.

Opponents called the bill an expansion of Florida’s voucher system, which already includes scholarships funded by corporate tax credits that are used to send students to private schools. They also argued that letting a bullied student transfer may leave the bully in place at a school where he or she could victimize more students.

“This bill, while attempting to help victims, is likely to result in more children being victimized by failing to address the root cause of bullying, violence and harassment in the first place,” said Stephanie Kunkel, a lobbyist for the Florida Education Association, the largest teachers’ union in Florida. “And it’s yet another attempt to send more kids to private school using taxpayer-funded vouchers under the guise of protecting victims.”

Galvano said there are already rules and laws to deal with students who are identified as bullies or who commit other offenses against students.

“We need to have all the rules that are currently in place with regard to how misconduct is handled,” Galvano said.

He also said it would be unfair to simply seek to increase the penalties for students who are bullies, while ignoring the victims.

“It doesn’t work that way,” he said. “You have to have both sides.”

Kunkel criticized the fact that the bill would shift $7.9 million in sales-tax revenue to the scholarships and transportation that otherwise could have been used in the state budget.

“The bill has the direct result of removing general revenue from schools and other programs,” Kunkel said.

Democratic senators who opposed the bill raised similar concerns.

“I do have a concern with the source and use of the funds utilized for this voucher,” said Sen. Perry Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale.

The bill passed in a 6-4 vote and will next go to the Senate Pre-K-12 Appropriations Subcommittee.

The measure is similar to a House scholarship bill (HB 1) that is a top priority for House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes.

Senate passage of the bill could be a key to the two chambers reaching agreement this year on education policy, with the House pushing changes in the K-12 system, while the Senate has made a priority out of legislation impacting state universities and colleges.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Politics

Former Trump campaign aide Rick Gates pleads guilty in Mueller investigation
Former Trump campaign aide Rick Gates pleads guilty in Mueller investigation

Rick Gates, a former aide in President Donald Trump's campaign, pleaded guilty to making false statements and conspiring against the United States on Friday, making him the fifth person to enter a guilty plea in special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
Scott, legislative leaders offer plans in response to school shooting
Scott, legislative leaders offer plans in response to school shooting

The minimum age to buy a gun in Florida could soon become 21, and all public schools could have either armed officers or armed teachers, under proposals made by Gov. Rick Scott and legislative leaders Friday. Scott and the Republican leaders of both the House and Senate held separate news conferences to unveil proposals they say they want to complete...
As Donald Trump Jr. drums up business in India, some ask what’s being sold
As Donald Trump Jr. drums up business in India, some ask what’s being sold

Donald Trump Jr., who has spent the week in India pitching new luxury high-rises that bear his family’s name, took the stage before a crowd of about 200 on Thursday. “Building a Better Mumbai,” the banner behind him proclaimed.  “We’re actually delivering true luxury,” Trump told the guests, who were greeted...
Sen. Marco Rubio finds himself at center of gun debate, again
Sen. Marco Rubio finds himself at center of gun debate, again

When a gunman slaughtered 49 people at an Orlando nightclub in 2016, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., described it as a moment of revelation — a tragedy so grave that it helped prompt his decision to seek a second term.  A year and a half later, with no gun violence legislation having been enacted in the interim, Rubio is again at the center of...
Goodman: Rubio destroyed his own argument against gun control (Does he realize it?)
Goodman: Rubio destroyed his own argument against gun control (Does he realize it?)

Marjory Stoneman Douglas student Cameron Kasky asks Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), right, if he will continue to accept money from the NRA during a CNN town hall meeting on Wednesday at the BB&T Center. (Michael Laughlin/Sun Sentinel/TNS) Marco Rubio provided much of the drama at Wednesday night’s remarkable town hall on gun violence...
More Stories