As a public-school principal for 32 years, and now as an elected school board member, I consider protecting our students from violence and bullying our sacred duty. No child should ever feel afraid to attend our schools.
I’m sad to say we live in a culture where many children are exposed to violence or can be harassed any time of day on social media. Without adequate supports in place, the resulting trauma can spill over into our classrooms. Our kids and public schools need the Legislature’s help more than ever.
We desperately need early intervention programs, more mental health counselors, and proven safe school programs to protect all children. These measures would help us prevent bullying in the first place.
We are told over and over there is no money for such things.
Meanwhile, House Bill 1 aims to divert up to $40 million for private school vouchers (“Hope Scholarships”) to parents seeking a way out of a public school because their child has been bullied or has been in fights. However, in this bill, parents can use this reason even if their child started the fight or the problem has been completely resolved at the school.
I support zero tolerance for student bullying. Florida Statute 1006.147 requires every public school to investigate, report and protect any student who is victimized by bullying. Parents and superintendents already have many options to transfer students to another classroom or public school as needed.
HB1 is not the answer; it opens Pandora’s Box for those who want a voucher to attend a private school yet does nothing to prevent the remaining students at the public school from being bullied. Neither does it provide any resources to help us address the problems of the troubled child who is doing the bullying or starting fights.
Furthermore, calling this a “Hope Scholarship Program” so folks can donate $20 instead of paying that tax when registering a car, seems like a ploy to disguise what this really is. Unknowingly, people will be diverting tax dollars to a private school voucher program instead of paying taxes that could otherwise support needy children in public schools.
During the 2016-17 school year, Florida corporations were allowed to divert $539 million to the Florida Tax Scholarship program to 1,733 participating Florida private and religious schools. No standards or accountability required.
I can’t understand why the Legislature keeps channeling our tax dollars away from our public schools when our need is so great and their duty is so paramount.
In a time when public schools are in such need, diverting more tax dollars to private schools that are not accountable to them makes no sense to me. Aren’t public schools their primary responsibility?
If the House passes this bill, the message to public schools will be loud and clear: “You don’t respect us to look out for the very students we are pledged to protect and educate.”
Our public schools need financial support and real solutions, not a new $40 million car registration gimmick disguised as hope.
Rosanne Wood is a member of the Leon County School Board and was the principal of SAIL High School for 32 years.