HB 1, which would create a new form of private school voucher, has been touted as a safety net for bullied youth, but the reality is that this legislation makes a promise it cannot keep. Instead of providing a safe learning environment for all children, HB 1 would push the victims of bullying out of their schools and into private schools with fewer protections.
It provides no guarantee that children bullied in public school won’t face similar – or worse – harassment in private school. What’s more, HB 1 doesn’t even require private schools to protect these transfer students. In fact, children transferring to private schools would forfeit the civil rights protections that they currently enjoy in public schools.
Quite simply, HB 1 teaches bullies that they can, in fact, drive their victims out of school. It teaches bullying victims that their only hope for relief may be leaving behind their friends, teachers, and the school they know.
Taxpayers should also question the financial wisdom behind HB 1. In the wake of the state discovering $50 million in fraud in the McKay Scholarship program, why should they believe the voucher program created by HB 1would be free from corruption?
And even if the state can account for every penny, the price tag for this experiment will be a steep one. Nationally, one in five children is bullied. That figure translates to more than 560,000 bullied students in Florida. Protecting all of these students under HB 1 would cost the state a staggering $4 billion.
Instead of funneling billions of public dollars into private schools, Florida should invest in evidence-based strategies and tools proven to foster an anti-bullying climate in its public schools. It is a far better way to ensure that the state’s public schools are safe, healthy, and welcoming places for all of Florida’s children.