By: Jake Stofan | Capitol News Service
March 5, 2018
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) -- Bullied public school students will be able to get a scholarship funded by taxpayer dollars to transfer to a private school under legislation approved by the Florida House on Monday.
But, Democrats and public education advocates say it's just another way for the state to funnel money out of the public school system.
50,000 public school students experience bullying each year in Florida. For some, it might be a single incident, but for others, the problem can be chronic.
"When there are children who are in real need, who are in dire straights, when they're not getting the resolution that they are looking for from the public school system, we still have an obligation to help those children," said Representative Byron Donalds (R - Naples).
Democrats say the bill doesn't do anything to address the bully.
"In this instance, the bully just moves on to another victim," explained Representative Jared Moskowitz (D - Coral Springs). "So, he bullies someone or she bullies someone. That victim is then moved to another school. That bully stays; bullies another kid. It's a never ending pattern.”
If the bullied student chooses to stay in the public school, both the student and the bully will receive counseling services.
The move to include counseling helped bring some Democrats to vote yes.
"It doesn't go as far as I'd like it to, but I'm going to stand with you," said Representative Shervin Jones (D - West Palm Beach).
The scholarships would be funded by the sales tax on automobile purchases, if the buyer agrees. Sponsors estimate $40 million will be generated; money education advocates say should go to public schools.
“We're going to send students who are bullied to a private institution that we have no guarantee that it's a safe place because private institutions have to report zero incidents,” said Joanne McCall, the president of the Florida Education Association.
The issue is so important to House leadership, the language is included in several bills in hopes one will clear the senate.
The bill was approved by the House by a 71-41, mostly party line, vote.