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Palm Coast Wednesday, Jul. 18, 2018 1 year ago

School district prepares to comply with new scholarship program that gives bullied kids money to attend private schools

School Board member Colleen Conklin questioned the program's transparency.
by: Jonathan Simmons News Editor

Flagler Schools is preparing to comply with a new state law that lets children who are bullied or have been the victim of certain crimes while in the public school system transfer to another school, another school district, or — with Hope Scholarship money — to a private school.

The program would be funded by drivers’ optional contributions when they buy cars. In exchange for the contribution, the driver would get credits on taxes they’d otherwise have to pay on the vehicle. 

“I will just say for the record that I think that this is shameful,” board member Colleen Conklin said during a July 17 School Board workshop. “A complete and total scam for taxpayer dollars to be used and shuffled to private institutions ... unaccountable dollars, with no transparency.”

She said the money ought to be spent on something like mental health support.

School Board attorney Kristy Gavin noted that the money comes from voluntary contributions, but Conklin said she wondered how the option would be presented to vehicle purchasers — whether it would be clear that it would be moving children out of the public system and into the private school system.

“I wonder what the language actually is. I wonder if it says, ‘to support anti-bullying programs,’” she said. 

“I’m pretty sure it’s just going to say, ‘Hope Scholarship,’” because that sounds very wonderful,” board member Trevor Tucker said with a chuckle. 

An incident would have to be officially reported to a school’s principal for the transfer to take place, and the scholarship would be based on available funds. The principal or a designee must notify the victim's parents bout the Hope Scholarship program and also provide the alleged offender’s parent with a copy of the report within 24 hours.

"Eligible incidents" — the situations that would allow a child to transfer — for the Hope Scholarship program include battery; harassment; hazing; bullying; kidnapping; physical attack; robbery; sexual offenses, harassment, assault or battery; threat or intimidation or fighting at a school.

“The only good thing that comes out of it, truly, is that it makes everybody very sensitive to the issue, and that we ensure that we handle these issues the way that they need to be handled, and appropriately and quickly,” Conklin said. "I think we do that, but I think this will only enhance and improve that area."

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