FLORIDA — During the 2016-2017 school year more than 47,000 Florida students reported they’d been bullied. Now, with the help of state lawmakers, a Clearwater-based non-profit will give out scholarships to students to get them to a new school and escape their bullies.
The Florida legislature voted in March to start up the Hope Scholarship Program.
"We knew what was ahead, we knew there would be a lot of difficulties, and a lot of challenges in implementing a new program on short notice like this, " Patrick Gibbons with Step Up For Students said.
Step Up For Students is a non-profit that’s been working with the Florida Department of Education for the past 16 years, giving out income-based scholarships for students in need of better academic opportunities and scholarships for special needs students. Now, they’ll add the Hope Scholarship to that roster. Unlike the other two, this one is not based on financial need.
To be eligible for the Hope Scholarship, the instance of bullying must be reported to the school’s administration. The principal or another designated staff member must investigate within 15 days. Whether or not the school decides to take action in that 15 days or that period ends, the parent can apply for the Hope Scholarship.
"We do hope when a child reports bullying, the fact that the kid can now leave the school, is going to be incentive enough for the principal and the dean of that school to address the child's needs and satisfy the parents," Gibbons said.
If the student is chosen, they have two options. They can receive money to be used for private school tuition and fees within their current district or receive up to $750 for transportation assistance to an out-of-district public school.
Lawmakers decided to fund this program through a tax credit supplied through new or used car purchases. Up to $105 of your purchase can be donated to the Hope Scholarship.
"This is an entirely new revenue source for a scholarship program,” Gibbons said. “We have no idea how many auto purchasers are going to want to donate to it."