Corcoran: Use scholarships to put kids in private schools
Richard Corcoran says he will push legislation to give scholarships to children bullied or abused in public schools, a move that Orange School Board chairman Bill Sublette describes as “insulting to our intelligence.”
TALLAHASSEE — Children bullied or abused in public schools could get statebacked scholarships to go to a private school starting next year.
House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, said he will push legislation to give scholarships to children abused at school, allowing them to get funding and attend a private school of their choice if their parents opt to remove them. Under the proposal, they could also choose to move to another public school.
“Children who are subjected to violence and abuse at school deserve hope, dignity and a real opportunity to succeed,” Corcoran said. “No child should ever be afraid to go to school, and no child should have to continually suffer abuse. They deserve a way out.”
But Orange School Board Chairman Bill Sublette decried the plan as “just one more attack on traditional public schools” and “insulting to our intelligence.”
“What evidence do they have ... that allegations of bullying are not treated seriously?” Sublette asked. He added that there was no proof that private schools have fewer bullying incidents than their public counterparts.
To allow a parent to seek a private-school scholarship based on a bullying accusation that wouldn’t need to be verified “boggles my mind,” Sublette added.
Corcoran said total funding for the scholarships was yet to be determined but would likely be structured similarly to one of the state’s other voucher programs, which is funded with corporate tax credits. He said the money would not come from the Florida Education Finance Program, the main funding source for public schools.
Data from the state Department of Education show more than 72,000 incidents were reported by schools during the 2015-16 school year. But Corcoran pointed to the 47,429 that were physical in nature: bullying, battery, fighting, harassment, physical attacks, robbery, sexual assault and battery, and threats or intimidation.
Of those, 4,782 were reported by Central Florida schools, including 3,730 in Orange County. Although the numbers show attacks that took place on campus grounds, Corcoran said the bill would likely cover incidents that take place off campus as well.
The legislation hasn’t been drafted yet, but Corcoran said it would be filed within the next 30 days and sponsored by Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Naples.
It would allow 15 days after an incident is reported for a school to respond; then parents would get to decide whether to accept the scholarship to remove their child from the school.
“It doesn't matter how good of a school you attend, or how great your teacher is, or how involved your parents are, if you're a victim of violence or abuse at school, your future is in jeopardy,” Donalds said.
The proposal also drew criticism from the Florida Education Association, the statewide teachers union and a frequent Corcoran nemesis.
“From what we’ve seen this, doesn’t seem like it’s about protecting bullied kids; it’s about boosting the state’s voucher system,” said FEA spokesman Mark Pudlow. “If there’s a problem with bullying in public schools, then [lawmakers] should come up with solutions, and really to this point, their actions haven’t helped.”
Corcoran has consistently supported school-choice policies that benefit charter schools, with critics contending it comes at the expense of traditional public schools. He pushed a bill this year allowing charter schools to take over failing public schools and transfer more funds to charter schools. Several school districts, including Orange County, have filed suit against the new law.
Lawmakers will consider the proposal when they meet for the legislative session that begins Jan. 9.
Staff Writer Leslie Postal contributed to this report. email@example.com or 850-222-5564