breaking news

Strengthening Alberto aims for Gulf coast, heavy rains likely in PB County

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

Legalizing marijuana: Why nobody is winning the John Morgan primary
Legalizing marijuana: Why nobody is winning the John Morgan primary

After his success with a medical marijuana referendum in 2016, attorney John Morgan favors full legalization but isn’t impressed with pot postures of this year’s Democratic candidates for governor. The four Democrats running for Florida governor all favor some degree of legalizing or decriminalizing recreational marijuana...
Legalizing marijuana divides Democrats, GOP candidates for governor
Legalizing marijuana divides Democrats, GOP candidates for governor

The four Democrats running for Florida governor all favor some degree of legalizing or decriminalizing recreational marijuana use — but the state’s most prominent pro-pot advocate is not impressed. Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and Winter Park businessman Chris King have made legalizing, regulating and taxing personal marijuana use part...
Facebook and Twitter plan new ways to regulate political ads
Facebook and Twitter plan new ways to regulate political ads

Facebook and Twitter announced plans Thursday to increase transparency of political campaign ads, changes aimed at preventing foreign manipulation of the coming midterm elections.  Facebook said it would begin including a “paid for” label on the top of any political ads in the United States. Clicking on the label will take people to...
NRA host calls for legislation to limit reporting on mass shooters. Then he says he didn’t mean it.
NRA host calls for legislation to limit reporting on mass shooters. Then he says he didn’t mean it.

In the days after a shooter killed 10 people at a Texas high school, National Rifle Association spokeswoman Dana Loesch joined a chorus of conservatives in spotlighting a subject to blame that didn't involve guns.  "The media has got to stop creating more of these monsters by oversaturation," Loesch said on the NRA's television station...
Meddling by Kushner and Sessions drove federal prisons director to quit
Meddling by Kushner and Sessions drove federal prisons director to quit

When Jared Kushner hosted a high-profile summit meeting on federal prison reform at the White House last Friday, some in attendance noticed that the man who was ostensibly in charge of the federal prison system, Mark S. Inch, a retired Army major general, was nowhere in sight.  Only Kushner and a few others knew that Inch, a genial former military...
More Stories