Bullying is a real problem, but vouchers won’t help. In fact, vouchers let the bullies win.
According to a local Tampa Bay news channel report, the proposed voucher “has Florida parents fuming.” Stacey Fernandes, a parent whose son was bullied, said the voucher “doesn’t solve the problem” and called it “utterly ridiculous.”
Even Florida students know this voucher program will do more harm than good. An editorial in the Pompano Beach High School student paper, the Tornado Times, explains that school vouchers for bullied students would “compound [the] bullying problem, not solve it.”
These parents and students are right. Private school vouchers generally are bad public policy. They lead to lower test scores; fail to provide civil rights protections for students, including protections for students with disabilities; funnel tax dollars to religious education and lack accountability to parents and taxpayers.
But vouchers for students who have been bullied have additional and unique problems.
First, using a voucher to remove the student who is being bullied from the public school does not address the underlying issue of bullying. It doesn’t encourage that school to create a more effective policy to prevent or end bullying. It doesn’t teach the bully to stop. In fact, the bullies get they want: They get to stay in their school, perhaps even ready to bully another student, while the students they bully are forced to leave. A parent named Stephanie Cox opposes the bill for that very reason: “It’s a crazy idea … the notion that a bully is going to then stay at the public school and is then gonna bully other students in the school…”
Second, students who use a voucher are actually stripped of the protections guaranteed by Florida’s anti-bullying law, the Jeffrey Johnston Stand Up for All Students Act. So, students who have been bullied could use the program created by SB 1172, HB 1 or HB 7055 to transfer to a private school only to find themselves bullied again, this time with no legal remedy.
Third, private schools in Florida – even those that take taxpayer-funded vouchers – do not have to accept all students. They can limit admission based on religion, sexual orientation, disability status and other criteria. The students who would most often be rejected from a private school based on these criteria are, of course, the very same groups of students who are often bullied. Imagine the hurt, frustration, and even humiliation of applying to a private school after being bullied only to be rejected by the school for that very same reason.
Unfortunately, Florida Speaker of the House Richard Corcoran (R) has made this program his priority. Originally the program was introduced as stand-alone bills – HB 1 in the House and SB 1172 in the Senate. But, HB 7055, the House spending bill that was introduced last week and adopted in committee this week, also includes the voucher plan. And, in what is a particularly devious and outrageous political ploy, the spending bill conditions all $8.3 billion in funding for public schools on the passage of the voucher bill.
If the state of Florida wants to stop bullying in public schools, it should invest in policies that work. Vouchers do nothing to solve the problem, and they may actually make it worse. They just transfer victims of bullying from the public schools to the private schools, which don’t provide them the same protections, and leave the bully behind to find another victim.
Americans United has already written a letter to House members to express our opposition to the voucher program. If you live in Florida, you can let your legislators know you oppose the bill too. Click here for our action alert.