Hope Scholarship: With some Florida school districts saying they’re confused by the law that offers state scholarships for bullied K-12 students, state Sen. Manny Diaz, R-Hialeah, has filed a bill intended to clarify the rules and further expand the scholarship. S.B. 1410 would remove school districts from making any decisions about a student’s eligibility for a Hope Scholarship. Instead, parents would go directly to the scholarship funding organization for an application and simply have to report a bullying incident to be eligible, with no verification required. The bill would also offer the scholarships to students from private schools. Gradebook. redefinED.
Gardiner Scholarship: Two bills are filed that would expand Gardiner Scholarships for students with special needs and make it simpler for parents to renew them. H.B. 1051, filed by Rep. Elizabeth Fetterhoff, R-DeLand, and S.B. 1380, sponsored by Sen. Keith Perry, R-Gainesville, would allow parents to submit applications when their child turns 3, and use the scholarship to pay for tuition and fees associated with art, music or theater programs. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the state’s Gardiner, Hope, tax credit and reading scholarships. redefinED.
TALLAHASSEE – State Sen. Manny Diaz Jr. on Tuesday filed a bill that would simplify the Hope Scholarship application process for children who claim to be bullied at school, reducing burdens on families and schools.
Created by the Florida Legislature last year, the scholarship provides families with financial assistance to send a child to an eligible private school, or to transport the student to a public school in another district. In Senate Bill 1410, Diaz (R-Hialeah), who chairs the Senate Education Committee, proposes the following tweaks to the program:
• Allow applications to go straight to Step Up For Students, which administers the scholarship (and which hosts this blog).
• Provide transportation scholarships for students coming from a private school.
• Requires the parent to notify the district when they withdraw from the program and to indicate that the student was subjected to an incident that qualifies him or her for a Hope Scholarship.
• Removes language that a student loses the scholarship if he or she returns to public school. The scholarship remains until the student graduates high school.
The scholarships are funded by consumers who choose to redirect up to $105 of their motor vehicle purchase taxes to the program. According to Step Up, automobile purchasers so far have contributed $18.3 million for the program. As of this week, 117 families have been awarded scholarships.
Under Diaz’s bill, any unspent contributions over 5 percent could be carried over to the following year – or be used to help fund the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship (FTC) for lower-income families, which currently has a waiting list of nearly 13,000 students.(Step Up also helps manage the FTC program.)
The bill is a response to concerns raised by school district officials and lawmakers, such as state Sen. Janet Cruz (D-Tampa), who have said the scholarship’s application process is burdensome.
Step Up For Students President Doug Tuthill, who heard Cruz’s concerns during testimony before the Senate Education Committee on Feb. 5, applauded the bill’s filing.
“This is a great example of bipartisanship,” Tuthill said. “Sen. Diaz crafted a bill responding to Sen. Cruz’s concerns. You don’t see a lot of that these days, but this is a good example of senators working together on something that everybody agreed was a problem.”
Runcie’s job on line: The Broward County School Board will consider firing Superintendent Robert Runcie at its meeting Tuesday. Board member Lori Alhadeff, whose daughter Alyssa died in the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, requested the item to be added to the agenda. She cited his “many failures of leadership,” specifically his handling of the tragedy and the district’s slow progress in carrying out the $800 million bond program for schools approved by voters in 2014. “The urgency to do this now is because the district is spiraling out of control,” Alhadeff said. Five of the nine board members have publicly expressed support for Runcie in the past few weeks. “As board members, we need to be accountable to the public,” Alhadeff said. “I am bringing it forward regardless if I have five votes or not.” Sun Sentinel. WPLG.
Hope Scholarships: Pasco County school officials are considering testing the state’s Hope Scholarship law by requiring that bullying reports from students be verified by the district before students are awarded a scholarship. Legislators and Department of Education officials say the law requires the complaining student be awarded a scholarship out of the school and, possibly, into a private school regardless of proof. But Pasco officials say the definition of bullying includes substantiation of the complaint, and a board attorney is doing further research. Gradebook.
Arming school employees: Gov. Ron DeSantis says he supports having the option of arming willing employees, including teachers, to help protect schools, as proposed by the state commission that investigated the shooting deaths of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last February. DeSantis says no one would be forced to be armed, but that “if you’re somebody who is working at a school and you are somebody who is trained and has the ability to do it, then you shouldn’t be precluded …” News Service of Florida.
Teacher certification: Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran has reorganized his staff to try to cut the waiting time to process applications for teacher certifications. The increased waiting time since 2017 has corresponded with a decline in educator certificates issued from 70,166 in the 2016-2017 school year to 31,397 in 2017-2018. WFTS. Gradebook. News Service of Florida. The Pasco County School District is turning to lively Facebook videos with catchy jingles in an attempt to recruit teachers. Gradebook.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Two of the Florida Legislature’s biggest players in education policy indicated Wednesday that accommodating students on waiting lists for education choice scholarships would be a priority in this year’s legislative session.
Both Senate Education Committee Chair Manny Diaz, R-Hialeah, and House Education Chair Jennifer Sullivan, R-Mount Dora, spoke at a luncheon celebrating National School Choice Week at the James Madison Institute.
Diaz said his priority will be addressing the 13,000 students on the waiting list for the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship and the smaller waitlist for the Gardiner Scholarship.
“I’m looking forward to having the Senate lead,” Diaz said. “We must eliminate waitlists. No child at the current poverty levels should be on (a waitlist).”
Sullivan, Diaz’s counterpart in the House, revealed plans for a new Education Savings Account (ESA), but said the details of what it will look like are still being discussed internally. At the very least, Sullivan said, it will serve wait-listed students.
Corporate contributions to the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship (administered by nonprofits like Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog) slowed in 2018, causing enrollment in the nation’s largest scholarship program for economically disadvantaged K-12 students to drop for the first time in 14 years – a case of supply being unable to meet demand.
In a speech on Martin Luther King Jr. Day Monday at Piney Grove Boys Academy in Lauderdale Lakes, Gov. Ron DeSantis pledged to work with lawmakers to find a solution.
“I would like to eliminate the wait list so that every parent has the ability to make these choices,” he said. “And that will be a priority for me in this next legislative session.”
Diaz told guests at Wednesday’s luncheon that he has additional ideas for the session, specifically working with Florida businesses to provide certification education that aligns with the modern workforce. He also spoke about the importance of civic education, noting that he would like teachers across all subject areas to have a greater understanding of it.
The chairman stated his belief that everyone in the Legislature shares a similar vision when it comes to education.
“Philosophically, we are aligned,” Diaz said. “But we have to be very careful that we are thoughtful and methodical, that we do things correctly.”
Sullivan was more circumspect.
Responding to a question about “how far the ball is going to be pushed” on choice, she said, “To the extent the Senate is supportive, we will find out.”
“We don’t want to jump the gun on anything,” Sullivan said. “It would be easy, out of excitement, to put something out that isn’t ready. But we need to go about it systemically and build consensus, so we have the buy-in.”
Asked about the lagging numbers for the new Hope Scholarship for bullied students – despite the fact that consumers have contributed $12.3 million of their automobile purchase taxes to the scholarship in its first year, only 80 students have been awarded so far – Sullivan noted that some district schools may not be producing documents families need to begin the process of receiving the scholarship.
She hinted that there may be a legislative fix coming to address the low numbers, perhaps in the form of accountability measures for schools that are slow-walking the process.
Sullivan closed by stating that every parent should have educational choices.
“That’s ultimate the goal, the dream of where we want to go,” she said. “Each year we make small steps towards that.”