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Florida lawmaker files bill for new ‘Hope’ scholarship to help bullied students

By Jeff Solochek
State Rep. Byron Donalds introduces the Florida House "Hope Scholarship" concept during an October news conference. [The Florida Channel]

State Rep. Byron Donalds has filed his promised legislation seeking to expand Florida's voucher-like system to students who have been bullied in public school.

The measure, a House leadership priority, was given the symbolic spot of HB 1. It will get quick treatment, with its first committee hearing scheduled for 4 p.m. Wednesday.

Introducing the concept in October, Donalds and Speaker Richard Corcoran said their goal was to provide students options away from public schools where they encountered violence.

"When you put a kid in a good, safe learning environment, good results happen," Corcoran said at the time.

The bill provides more details about the plan.

Among them, the lawmakers have proposed allowing students to receive a scholarship to a private school, or a transportation scholarship to a different public school of their choice, 15 days after they report having been subjected at school to not only bullying, but also to battery, harassment, hazing, kidnapping, physical attack, robbery; sexual offenses, harassment, assault, or battery; threat or intimidation; or fighting.

It does not distinguish between a student who starts a fight and one who is drawn into one.

The private schools could be sectarian or nonsectarian. To participate, the schools would have to provide at a minimum an annual progress report to parents, and make provisions for the students to take a nationally norm-referenced test.

Funding would come through a tax-credit program associated with the purchase of a motor vehicle.

The state Department of Education would have authority to review the participating schools' climate and some of their basic information, such as teacher credentials.

"The department may not make more than seven site visits each year," the bill states. "However, the department may make additional site visits at any time to a school that has received a notice of noncompliance or a notice of proposed action within the previous 2 years."

Questions about oversight of private schools receiving tax credit scholarships have risen with a recent Orlando Sentinel report about that program.

The bill has yet to get a Senate version.