Monday, October 22, 2018

Florida Department of Education prepares rules to govern scholarships for bullied students

Families of children who have been bullied or harassed in a Florida public school soon will have access to state scholarships to attend private schools instead.

But first, the State Board of Education must set the rules for how the controversial "Hope Scholarship" program will operate.

The Department of Education has issued a draft proposal in advance of a planned June 6 public workshop. Unlike the new law, which took up 17 pages of HB 7055, the rule runs just one page.

It's made simple by the fact that lawmakers deleted the language that would have required families to substantiate the bullying incident for which they are seeking a voucher.

Instead, the law states that a student is eligible for the program if he or she "reported an incident," defined as "battery; harassment; hazing; bullying; kidnapping; physical attack; robbery; sexual offenses, harassment, assault, or battery; threat or intimidation; or fighting at school."

The proposed rule would require school districts to provide parents of eligible children information about the scholarships in a timely fashion. Parents then would apply to a scholarship funding organization, providing basic information such as the student's name and grade, and type of incident that occurred.

Once approved, they could take their money to a private school, which would be deemed available to accept the scholarships so long as they meet the basic requirements of state law governing private schools. These include some fiscal soundness, safety and accountability rules.

An eligible student also may "choose to attend another public school in the student's school district or in another school district," the draft states. "Public school options are subject to the receiving school's capacity."

The scholarship amount  for a public school transfer would be limited to transportation costs.

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