A New Controversial Education Bill Heads For Gov. Scott’s Desk

FILE – In this Feb. 21, 2018, file photo, the Florida Senate chamber is darkened while a slideshow shows each person killed in a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, at the state Capitol in Tallahassee, Fla. The Florida Senate spent hours debating a bill to increase school safety and restrict gun purchases in a rare Saturday session, March 3, that often turned into a debate on gun control and arming teachers in the aftermath of last month’s Parkland school shootings. (AP Photo/Mark Wallheiser, File)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. AP — After strong debate, a controversial education bill is headed to Gov. Rick Scott after it passed both chambers. The bill took hours to craft as the battle over giving money to private and charter schools while taking it away from public schools triggered a great deal of debate before the measure passed.

It provides sweeping changes, including new funding for existing school voucher programs, less regulation of charter schools and tighter restrictions on how teacher’s unions can operate.

It would create the nation’s first private school voucher program for students who are bullied.

“This bill expands school choice options for K-through-12 students,” said State Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, (R) Naples.

The Senate narrowly approved a House bill that creates the so-called Bully Voucher Bill, or “Hope Scholarship.” It would allow students to transfer to another public school or opt for private school vouchers. The $41 million program would be funded with vehicle sales tax revenue.

“This bill provides those flexibilities to students and to parents, and we fund those opportunities for our students,” said State Sen. Kelli Stargel, (R) Lakeland.

“It’s just an attempt to attack public education, like a wrecking ball, and divert the funds to private schools and charters and vouchers,” said Wendy Doromal, president of the Orange County Classroom Teachers Association.

Teachers unions say lawmakers should have used that money to improve public school anti-bullying campaigns.

“Instead of removing a victim, let’s have bullying-prevention programs in every public school,” Doromal said.

The bill covers a wide range of behavior that might qualify a student for a transfer or voucher: bullying, teaching, claims of sexual harassment or battery, even verbal threats.

The claims would be subject to review by the school administration.

The bill now goes to the governor’s desk.