Fundraising officially began Monday for the first state-supported scholarship in America aimed at helping K-12 students victimized by bullying.
The Hope Scholarship gives parents of eligible students the opportunity to find a safer learning environment among private schools participating in the program. It also allows parents to transfer their child to another K-12 public school with available capacity within the school district, or to receive funding to transport the student to a public school in another school district.
The scholarship was created by the Florida Legislature last spring, signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott, and will be administered by Step Up For Students, a Florida nonprofit. It will be funded by purchasers of motor vehicles who, starting today, can designate up to $105 of sales taxes on those purchases to Step Up.
Representatives from Step Up and Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Naples, who sponsored the Hope legislation, were on hand Monday to kick off the program at De LaSalle Academy of Fort Myers, a school for students with special needs that will be participating in the Hope program.
“We’re excited to launch the Hope Scholarship program today. Children can’t learn when they don’t feel safe. Through this program, children who are being bullied or harassed will be able to access a safe learning environment,” said Doug Tuthill, president of Step Up For Students. “We are grateful to the state legislature for creating this program to protect these children, and we’re honored to be the program administrator.”
“In 2016, there were more than 46,000 reports of abuse from Florida public school students. This first-of-its-kind scholarship program is focused on those victims and ensuring that all children have access to a safe learning environment,” said Rep. Donalds. “I am proud of the Florida legislature for doing what’s in the best interest of thousands of Florida students who have been subject to bullying or abuse, and I believe the Hope Scholarship will provide a pathway for those children to reach their full potential.”
“I think it’s a wonderful idea. An awesome idea,” said parent Jennifer Cotrell about the Hope Scholarship. Her daughter, Paige, was bullied in her prior school because of her learning disability.
“There is nothing worse than a kid who doesn’t want to go to school because of how they are treated there,” said Cottrell. Paige now attends De LaSalle Academy with help from another type of educational choice scholarship, the Gardiner Scholarship for students with special needs.
Qualifying incidents for the Hope Scholarship include bullying, assault, battery, harassment, hazing, kidnapping, physical attack, robbery, threats or intimidation, sexual offenses, and fighting at school. According to state data, more than 46,000 Florida students in the 2016-17 school year were subjected to bullying, violence or harassment in their district school.
So far, more than 220 private schools have signed up to participate in the program, and more than 1,700 parents have put their names on an interest list.
The Hope Scholarship value depends on grade levels: $6,519 for grades K-5, $6,815 for grades 6-8, and $7,111 for grades 9-12. According to Florida TaxWatch, per-pupil spending averaged $10,308 for students in Florida school districts in 2015-16.
The transportation scholarship is worth up to $750.
The principal and students from De LaSalle Academy, who currently benefit from other state-supported scholarships, participated in Monday’s event. So did representatives from local automobile dealerships, who displayed their latest models.
About Step Up For Students
Step Up For Students is a nonprofit that helps administer four state-supported scholarship programs, including the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship for lower-incomes or foster care students. Since 2001, Step Up has awarded more than 680,000 scholarships.
Step Up also helps administer the Gardiner Scholarship for Florida students with special needs such as autism and Down syndrome, and the Reading Scholarship for public school students in grades 3-5 who are struggling with reading.
For more information, visit: www.StepUpForStudents.org.