Buy a car, fund a scholarship

You can donate some of the tax to send bullied children to private school.
This form allows new car buyers to donate up to $105 to the state's Hope Scholarship fund.
This form allows new car buyers to donate up to $105 to the state's Hope Scholarship fund.
Published July 29, 2019

New car buyers are seeing something else new when they go to the Department of Motor Vehicles to get their cars registered: A notice that they can contribute some of their taxes to a state scholarship fund.

The notice can be disturbing to those who oppose state-sponsored school choice initiatives.

But it’s all very official.

The Legislature in 2018 approved the “Hope Scholarship” program, not to be confused with Schools of Hope.

Hope scholarships are awarded to families who say their children were bullied, battered or harassed at district-run schools. As part of the process, the principal is asked to fill out a form confirming that the incident was reported. Just reporting it triggers eligibility for the scholarship program, despite the outcome of the principal’s investigation.

Money for the scholarship comes from state taxes on motor vehicles, up to $105.

The program got off to a slow start, said Ron Matus of Step Up for Students, which administers the program. It took awhile to print up the materials and spread the word.

The program raised $42.1 million in contributions in the 2018-19 school year. Since July 1, it raised another $5.3 million.

With that money, the state awarded 148 scholarships in 2018-19, 123 of them for private school tuition; and 329 so far for 2019-20, 76 of them for private schools.

They don’t get the money until they enroll their children in the private schools, which accounts for the difference in the numbers.

Schools of Hope, despite the similar name, is a state program that invites charter organizations to the state and allows them to set up shop in specific neighborhoods that are served by low-performing schools.

Texas-based IDEA has been approved to open four such schools in Tampa in 2020.