House Speaker

Cor­co­ran: Use schol­ar­ships to put kids in pri­vate schools

Orlando Sentinel - - FRONT PAGE - By Gray Rohrer Tal­la­has­see Bureau

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. grohrer@or­lan­dosen­tinel.com or 850-222-5564

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