1. Gradebook

Florida lawmaker files another bill to expand private school scholarships

Sen. Manny Diaz would make it easier for students who claim they were bullied to get an award.
Senate Education Committee chairman Manny Diaz, R-Hialeah, speaks to reporters Feb. 21, 2019, in the Capitol about his chamber's education priorities for the upcoming session. [The Florida Channel]
Published Feb. 27
Updated Feb. 27

In an ongoing effort to grow Florida’s school choice programs, the powerful chairman of the state Senate Education Committee has proposed enlarging a 2018 scholarship for students who claim to be bullied in school. The bill is based, in part, on concerns and questions raised by Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran, who led the charge for this law last year when he was speaker of the Florida House.

The “Hope” scholarship, funded by a sales tax credit on automobile purchases, was established to allow children in district schools to attend different private or public schools if they had been abused or harassed. Sen. Manny Diaz, R-Hialeah, would allow private school students to be eligible for a scholarship, as well.

With SB 1410, Diaz also would take schools out of the decision making whether to provide scholarship information to students. It would have parents whose children were subjected to an incident listed in the law go directly to a scholarship funding organization for an application.

The family would simply have to report the incident. No verification is requested.

School districts have raised concerns that they are supposed to provide scholarship details to the families without having substantiated the allegation of bullying. The state House insisted in 2018 that the program not require proof that the bullying occurred.

As of this week, scholarship funding organization Step Up For Students reports that 212 families had completed applications for the “Hope” scholarship, with 126 being awarded. That’s not as large as lawmakers anticipated: They noted during their discussions on the measure that thousands of children could be eligible, based on school district incident reports.

Diaz said the he filed this bill as a “conversation piece” to start the debate again over the Hope Scholarships created last year, but said it’s a work in progress that will change based on research being done by Corcoran.

“When people see this, their antennae go up. I think it’s my job to put all these thing on the table, to have the conversation, to give the new commissioner — who happens to have been part of making the law — the chance to research and see if there’s anything to make it better," Diaz said.

If the demand does not meet the supply of available funding, Diaz would allow any unspent contributions in excess of 5 percent of the total to be carried forward to the following year, or to be used toward Florida Tax Credit Scholarships for low-income students.

Diaz said he’s hoping Corcoran will find out why the enrollment has been so low so they can adjust accordingly, even if that means “collapsing” the Hope Scholarship and using the funds for other voucher-like programs because the bullying measure isn’t catching on with parents.

He also has said his committee will publish a bill in the first week of session that would provide state funds to eliminate the current waiting list for the Tax Credit Scholarships, another goal set forth by Gov. Ron DeSantis.


  1. Sandra Gero, a regional search associate at Ray and Associates, hosts a meeting at the Middleton High School auditorium and gathers public comments on what people are looking for for the next Hillsborough County School Superintendent on Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019 in Tampa. LUIS SANTANA  |  Times
    Using public meetings and a survey, they’re painting a picture of the ideal school leader.
  2. Jeff Eakins and MaryEllen Elia, Hillsborough's last two superintendents, were hired from inside the school system. So have all others since 1967. Times staff
    Go to the school district website before 8 a.m. Monday to state your case.
  3. Rep. Geraldine Thompson, D-Orlando, urges the Florida Board of Education to hold schools accountable for teaching the Holocaust and African-American history, as required by lawmakers in 1994. The board was considering a rule on the matter at its Sept. 20, 2019, meeting in Jacksonville. The Florida Channel
    School districts will have to report how they are providing the instruction required in Florida law.
  4. The Pasco County school district would rezone the Seven Oaks subdivision from the Wiregrass Ranch High feeder pattern to the Cypress Creek High feeder pattern, beginning in the 2020-21 school year. Pasco County school district
    The Seven Oaks subdivision is the primary target for rezoning.
  5. Fortify Florida is a new app that allows for anonymous reporting of suspected school threats. Florida Department of Education
    A roundup of stories from around the state.
  6. Pasco County school superintendent Kurt Browning says Fortify Florida, the new state-sponsored app that allows students to report potential threats, is "disrupting the education day" because the callers are anonymous, many of the tips are vague and there's no opportunity to get more information from tipsters. "I have an obligation to provide kids with a great education," Browning said. "I cannot do it with this tool, because kids are hiding behind Fortify Florida." JEFFREY SOLOCHEK  |
    Vague and anonymous tips often waste law enforcement’s time and disrupt the school day, says Kurt Browning, president of Florida’s superintendents association.
  7. Rep. Susan Valdes, D-Tampa, during a Feb. 7, 2019, meeting of the House PreK-12 Appropriations subcommittee. [The Florida Channel]
    ‘One test should not determine the rest of your life,’ Rep. Susan Valdes says.
  8. The Florida House Education Committee focuses on early education in its first meeting of the 2020 session. The Florida Channel
    School security and early learning get top billing in the first committee meetings of the looming 2020 session.
  9. This image from a Pinellas County Schools video shows an armed police officer running to respond to a fictional active shooter.
    A roundup of stories from around the state.
  10. Representatives from the Pasco County school district and the United School Employees of Pasco discuss salary and benefits during negotiations on Sept. 18, 2019. JEFFREY SOLOCHEK  |  Times Staff Writer
    The proposal is short on details, with officials saying they want to work through specifics during negotiations.