TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CAPITOL NEWS SERVICE) - Bullied public school students would be eligible for a scholarship paid for by tax dollars to transfer to a private school under legislation approved by the Florida House Monday.
Many Democrats and public education advocates say it's just another way for the state to funnel money out of the public school system.
Fifty thousand public school students experience bullying each year in Florida. For some, it might be a single incident, but for others, the problem can be chronic.
Now, the House has approved a bill that would use tax dollars to fund scholarships for bullied students to transfer to private schools.
"When there are children who are in real need, who are in dire straits when they're not getting the resolution that they are looking for from the public school system, we still have an obligation to help those children," said Representative Byron Donalds.
Democrats say the bill doesn't do anything to address the bully.
"In this instance, the bully just moves on to another victim, so he bullies someone or she bullies someone. That victim is then moved to another school. That bully stays; bullies another kid. It's a never-ending pattern," said Representative Jared Moskowitz.
If the bullied student chooses to stay in the public school, both the student and the bully will receive counseling services.
The move to include counseling helped bring some Democrats to vote "yes".
"It doesn't go as far as I'd like it to, but I'm going to stand with you," said Representative Shervin Jones.
The scholarships would be funded by the sales tax on automobile purchases if the buyer agrees. Sponsors estimate $40 million will be generated, money education advocates say should go to public schools.
"We're going to send students who are bullied to a private institution that we have no guarantee that it's a safe place because private institutions have to report zero incidents," argued Joanne McCall, president of the Florida Education Association.
The issue is so important to House leadership, the language is included in several bills in hopes one will clear the Senate.
The House approved the bill by a 71 to 41, mostly party-line vote.