Q&A Of The Day - How Florida’s Hope Scholarship Program Works
Each day I feature a listener question sent by one of these methods.
Parler & Twitter: @brianmuddradio
Today’s entry: I heard the state went along with extending the voucher program in school districts with mask mandates you were talking about this morning (Friday). I’m not familiar with how the state’s voucher program works. These are my questions: Are there restrictions on where the vouchers can be used? Is it limited and if so, is it first come first served? How long does it take to process?
Bottom Line: So yes, on Friday the Florida Board of Education did heed the call of Governor DeSantis and implemented a mask mandate rule for the school year which starts for much of the state this week. The rule stipulates two important distinctions. First, parents not school districts, determine whether masks will be worn in the classroom. This means even school districts with mandate masks must allow for parents to opt their children out. Second, the districts which do have the “optional” mandates in place will allow parents an option to access Florida’s Hope Scholarship program to change schools if their child is subjected to harassment or bullying related to not wearing a mask. Florida’s Hope Scholarship program works like this:
- Open to K-12 students who meet qualifying guidelines
- Administered through the Florida non-profit Step Up for Students
- Up to $9,200 per eligible student is available and varies based on school district and grade
- Funds can be used to cover transportation in addition to tuition
- Funds can be used for an accredited school of choice including private schools
Also, unlike Florida’s school voucher program – which numerous news outlets over the weekend conflated the Hope Scholarship program with – there's no income restriction. In terms of how it works and how quickly...here’s the exact guidance: Applications, including all supporting documents, are processed in the order they are received and scholarships are awarded pending funding availability. Scholarship funding can be transferred to other eligible schools if the student moves within the state, or simply wants to attend a different participating private school. So that’s the key, it’s there until funds run out during a given school year. Because the rates vary by grade and school district, there’s not a finite number that will be accepted. But yes, it’s likely to be competitive this year, so applying quickly certainly makes sense – aside from it being the start of the new school year which further provides an incentive to get processed as quickly as possible. The typical application gets turned around in about 15 days. I’m not sure how that might be, or if it will be, impacted by a potential flood of applications with this rule change. The key though, is that documented harassment or bullying must take place prior to applying for the Hope Scholarship. There’s a new rule specifically called COVID-19harassment.The rule stipulates: any threatening, discriminatory, insulting, or dehumanizing verbal, written or physical conduct an individual student suffers in relation to, or as a result of, school districts protocols for COVID-19, including masking requirement, the separation or isolation of students, or COVID-19 testing requirements.
Hope exists for bullying generally so based on the rule any student harassed or bullied related to not wearing a mask regardless of a school district's mask policy may be eligible. There’s simply a heightened concern in districts which require opt-outs.