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Schools Seek Clarity on Hope Scholarship

June 7th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
Florida school officials are seeking clarity on a new scholarship program for bullied students.
The Hope Scholarship Program gives students an avenue to escape bullying by offering them vouchers for a private school.
Representative Byron Donalds sponsored the legislation.
“What we’ve never done is focus on the victim and that’s what we’re doing in this legislation,” said Donalds.
But some school officials worry the way the law was written makes it difficult to ensure the money will go to students who need it most.
The law requires schools to tell bullied students a voucher is available within 15 days of an incident being reported.
“So the question that districts are asking is if the report has to be substantiated or not,” said Andrea Messina, Director of the Florida School Boards Association.
The law doesn’t specify. Leaving the door open for a student to falsify a bullying incident and still be granted the scholarship.
The scholarship was a priority for House Speaker Richard Corcoran and faced staunch opposition from Democrats and education advocates.
“This is just another scheme that is designed to enrich private institutions,” said Rich Templin with the Florida AFL-CIO.
The State estimates $27 million will be available for the Scholarship in the next year.
But with no requirement to validate claims, the scholarship could be vulnerable to abuse.
“They want to keep students safe that’s their number one priority,” said Messina. “They really want to make sure that the students who get this scholarship are the student in most need,” said Messina.
But Donalds says the language was left open intentionally to prevent the possibility of a school dismissing legitimate reports.
“There were instances where school districts were not substantiating actual violence occurring in schools,” said Donalds.
The Department of Education’s can’t require complaints be substantiated on its own. It would require the Legislature to rewrite the statute.
The state expects 7,300 Hope Scholarships to be awarded in the next year.

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