Florida lawmakers push scholarships for bullied students transferring to private schools

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The Florida House moved forward Wednesday with two heavily debated bills that would create the “Hope Scholarship” program, which would provide voucher-like scholarships to thousands of students who are bullied or suffer other abuses in public schools.

The House Education Committee approved a stand-alone bill (HB 1) that would create the program, while the full House prepared to vote Thursday on a budget-related bill (HB 7055) that also includes the controversial proposal.

The program, a priority of House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’ Lakes, would be funded through contributions that motorists would make when buying cars or other vehicles. In exchange for the voluntary contributions, the motorists would receive credits on taxes they would otherwise pay on the purchases.

Rep. Byron Donalds, a Naples Republican who is sponsoring the stand-alone bill, said the legislation could help close to 6,000 students who could use the scholarships to transfer to private schools.

“This is a bill to help the victims of our state, to escape their schools if they cannot function anymore,” Donalds said.

But Democrats object to the proposal, saying it is an attempt to expand the use of taxpayer dollars for private schools and would do little to solve bullying in schools.

“It does not guarantee that we are going to deal with the problem of, ‘how are we going to stop the bullying?’ “ said Rep. Bruce Antone, D-Orlando. “It does not guarantee that the recipient of a hope scholarship will get a quality education.”

The stand-alone bill has cleared its committees and is ready to go to the full House. The House took up the budget-related bill on the floor Wednesday and, after heavy debate, positioned it for a vote Thursday.

The Senate Pre-K-12 Education Appropriations Subcommittee also is slated Thursday to take up its version of the hope-scholarship bill (SB 1172), filed by Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton.