STUDENT SAFETY SCHOLARSHIP ACT

Summary

The Student Safety Scholarship Program is established to provide the parent of a public school student who was subjected to an incident listed in subsection (3) an opportunity to transfer the student to another public school or to request a scholarship for the student to enroll in and attend an eligible private school.

STUDENT SAFETY SCHOLARSHIP ACT

Student Safety Scholarship Act

(1) PURPOSE.  The Student Safety Scholarship Program is established to provide the parent of a public school student who was subjected to an incident listed in subsection (3) an opportunity to transfer the student to another public school or to request a scholarship for the student to enroll in and attend an eligible private school.

(2) DEFINITIONS.  As used in this section, the term:

(a) “Department” means the Department of Education.

(b) “Parent” means a resident of this state who is a parent, and whose child reported a qualifying incident.

(c) “Program” means the Student Safety Scholarship Program.

(d) “School” means any educational program or activity conducted by a public K-12 educational institution, any school-related or school-sponsored program or activity, including riding on a school bus or waiting at a school bus stop.

(e) “Unweighted FTE funding amount” means the statewide average total funds per unweighted full-time equivalent funding amount that is incorporated by reference in the General Appropriations Act, or by a subsequent special appropriations act, for the applicable state fiscal year.

(3) PROGRAM ELIGIBILITY.  Beginning with the 2018-2019 school year, a student enrolled in a public school in kindergarten through grade 12 is eligible for a scholarship under this program if the student reported an incident in accordance with existing reporting requirements. For purposes of this section, the term “incident” means battery; harassment; hazing; bullying; kidnapping; physical attack; robbery; sexual offenses, harassment, assault, or battery; threat or intimidation; or fighting at school.

(4) PROGRAM PROHIBITIONS.  Payment of a scholarship to a student enrolled in a private school may not be made if a student is:

(a) Enrolled in a public school, including, a charter school;

(b) Enrolled in a school operating for the purpose of providing educational services to youth in the Department of Juvenile Justice commitment programs;

(c) Participating in a virtual school, correspondence school, or distance learning program that receives state funding pursuant to the student’s participation unless the participation is limited to no more than two courses per school year; or

(d) Receiving any other educational scholarship pursuant to this chapter.

(5) TERM OF STUDENT SAFETY SCHOLARSHIP.  For purposes of continuity of educational choice, a Student Safety Scholarship shall remain in force until the student returns to a public school or graduates from high school, whichever occurs first. A scholarship student who enrolls in a public school is considered to have returned to a public school for the purpose of determining the end of the scholarship’s term.

(6) SCHOOL DISTRICT OBLIGATIONS; PARENTAL OPTIONS.

(a) Upon receipt of a report of an incident, the school principal, or his or her designee, shall provide a copy of the report to the parent and investigate the incident. Within 24 hours after receipt of the report, the principal or his or her designee shall provide a copy of the report to the parent of the alleged offender and to the superintendent. Upon conclusion of the investigation or within 15 days after the incident was reported, whichever occurs first, the school district shall notify the parent of the program and offer the parent an opportunity to enroll his or her student in another public school that has capacity or to request and receive a scholarship to attend an eligible private school. A parent who chooses to enroll his or her student in a public school located outside the district in which the student resides shall be eligible for a scholarship to transport the student as provided in paragraph (11)(b).

(b) For each student in the Student Safety Scholarship program who chooses to participate in the statewide assessments, the school district in which the student resides must notify the student and his or her parent about the locations and times to take all statewide assessments.

(7) PRIVATE SCHOOL ELIGIBILITY AND OBLIGATIONS.  An eligible private school may be sectarian or nonsectarian and shall:

(a) Comply with all requirements for private schools participating in state school choice scholarship programs.

(b)1. Annually administer or make provision for students participating in the program in grades 3 through 10 to take one of the nationally norm-referenced tests identified by the department or the statewide assessments. Students with disabilities for whom standardized testing is not appropriate are exempt from this requirement. A participating private school shall report a student’s scores to his or her parent.

2. Administer the statewide assessments if a private school chooses to offer the statewide assessments.  A participating private school may choose to offer and administer the statewide assessments to all students who attend the private school in grades 3 through 10 and must submit a request in writing to the department by March 1 of each year in order to administer the statewide assessments in the subsequent school year.

If a private school fails to meet the requirements of this subsection, the commissioner may determine that the private school is ineligible to participate in the program.

(8) DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION OBLIGATIONS.  The department shall:

(a) Cross-check the list of participating scholarship students with the public school enrollment lists to avoid duplication.

(b) Maintain a list of nationally norm-referenced tests identified for purposes of satisfying the testing requirement in paragraph (9)(f). The tests must meet industry standards of quality in accordance with State Board of Education rule.

(c) Require quarterly reports by an eligible nonprofit scholarship-funding organization regarding the number of students participating in the program, the private schools in which the students are enrolled, and other information deemed necessary by the department.

(d) Contract with an independent entity to provide an annual evaluation of the program by:

1. Reviewing the school bullying prevention education program, climate, and code of student conduct of each public school from which 10 or more students transferred to another public school or private school using the Hope scholarship to determine areas in the school or school district procedures involving reporting, investigating, and communicating a parent’s and student’s rights that are in need of improvement. At a minimum, the review must include:

a. An assessment of the investigation time and quality of the response of the school and the school district.

b. An assessment of the effectiveness of communication procedures with the students involved in an incident, the students’ parents, and the school and school district personnel.

c. An analysis of school incident and discipline data.

d. The challenges and obstacles relating to implementing recommendations from the review.

2. Reviewing the school bullying prevention education program, climate, and code of student conduct of each public school to which a student transferred if the student was from a school identified in subparagraph 1. in order to identify best practices and make recommendations to a public school at which the incidents occurred.

3. Reviewing the performance of participating students enrolled in a private school in which at least 51 percent of the total enrolled students in the prior school year participated in the program and in which there are at least 10 participating students who have scores for tests administered.

4. Surveying the parents of participating students to determine academic, safety, and school climate satisfaction and to identify any challenges to or obstacles in addressing the incident or relating to the use of the scholarship.

(9) PARENT AND STUDENT RESPONSIBILITIES FOR PROGRAM PARTICIPATION.   A parent who applies for a Student Safety Scholarship is exercising his or her parental option to place his or her student in an eligible private school.

(a) The parent must select an eligible private school and apply for the admission of his or her student.

(b) The parent must inform the student’s school district when the parent withdraws his or her student to attend an eligible private school.

(c) Any student participating in the program must remain in attendance throughout the school year unless excused by the school for illness or other good cause.

(d) Each parent and each student has an obligation to the private school to comply with such school’s published policies.

(e) Upon reasonable notice to the department and the school district, the parent may remove the student from the private school and place the student in a public school in accordance with this section.

(f) The parent must ensure that the student participating in the program takes the norm-referenced assessment offered by the private school. The parent may also choose to have the student participate in the statewide assessments. If the parent requests that the student take the statewide assessments and the private school has not chosen to offer and administer the statewide assessments, the parent is responsible for transporting the student to the assessment site designated by the school district.

(g) Upon receipt of a scholarship warrant, the parent to whom the warrant is made must restrictively endorse the warrant to the private school for deposit into the account of such school. If payment is made by funds transfer, the parent must approve each payment before the scholarship funds may be deposited. The parent may not designate any entity or individual associated with the participating private school as the parent’s attorney in fact to endorse a scholarship warrant or approve a funds transfer. A parent who fails to comply with this paragraph forfeits the scholarship.

(10) OBLIGATIONS OF ELIGIBLE NONPROFIT SCHOLARSHIP-FUNDING ORGANIZATIONS.  An eligible nonprofit scholarship-funding organization may establish scholarships for eligible students by:

(a) Receiving applications and determining student eligibility in accordance with the requirements of this section.

(b) Notifying parents of their receipt of a scholarship on a first-come, first-served basis, based upon available funds.

(c) Establishing a date by which the parent of a participating student must confirm continuing participation in the program.

(d) Awarding scholarship funds to eligible students, giving priority to renewing students from the previous year.

(e) Preparing and submitting quarterly reports to the department pursuant to paragraph (8)(c). In addition, an eligible nonprofit scholarship-funding organization must submit in a timely manner any information requested by the department relating to the program.

(f) Notifying the department of any violation of this section.

(11) FUNDING AND PAYMENT.

(a) The maximum amount awarded to a student enrolled in an eligible private school shall be determined as a percentage of the unweighted FTE funding amount for that state fiscal year and thereafter as follows:

1. Eighty-eight percent for a student enrolled in kindergarten through grade 5.

2. Ninety-two percent for a student enrolled in grade 6 through grade 8.

3. Ninety-six percent for a student enrolled in grade 9 through grade 12.

(b) The maximum amount awarded to a student enrolled in a public school located outside of the district in which the student resides shall be $750.

(c) When a student enters the program, the eligible nonprofit scholarship-funding organization must receive all documentation required for the student’s participation, including a copy of the report of the incident and the private school’s and student’s fee schedules. The initial payment shall be made after verification of admission acceptance, and subsequent payments shall be made upon verification of continued enrollment and attendance at the private school.

(d) Payment of the scholarship by the eligible nonprofit scholarship-funding organization may be by individual warrant made payable to the student’s parent or by funds transfer, including, but not limited to, debit cards, electronic payment cards, or any other means of payment that the department deems to be commercially viable or cost-effective. If payment is made by warrant, the warrant must be delivered by the eligible nonprofit scholarship-funding organization to the private school of the parent’s choice, and the parent shall restrictively endorse the warrant to the private school. If payments are made by funds transfer, the parent must approve each payment before the scholarship funds may be deposited. The parent may not designate any entity or individual associated with the participating private school as the parent’s attorney in fact to endorse a scholarship warrant or approve a funds transfer.

(e) An eligible nonprofit scholarship-funding organization shall obtain verification from the private school of a student’s continued attendance at the school for each period covered by a scholarship payment.

(f) Payment of the scholarship shall be made by the eligible nonprofit scholarship-funding organization no less frequently than on a quarterly basis.

(g) An eligible nonprofit scholarship-funding organization may use up to 3 percent of eligible contributions received during the state fiscal year in which such contributions are collected for administrative expenses if the organization has operated as an eligible nonprofit scholarship-funding organization for at least the preceding 3 fiscal years and did not have any findings of material weakness or material noncompliance in its most recent audit. Such administrative expenses must be reasonable and necessary for the organization’s management and distribution of eligible contributions under this section. Funds authorized under this paragraph may not be used for lobbying or political activity or expenses related to lobbying or political activity. Up to one-third of the funds authorized for administrative expenses under this paragraph may be used for expenses related to the recruitment of contributions. An eligible nonprofit scholarship-funding organization may not charge an application fee.

(h) Moneys received pursuant to this section do not constitute taxable income to the qualified student or his or her parent.

(12) OBLIGATIONS OF THE AUDITOR GENERAL.

(a) The Auditor General shall conduct an annual operational audit of accounts and records of each organization that participates in the program. As part of this audit, the Auditor General shall verify, at a minimum, the total number of students served and transmit that information to the department. The Auditor General shall provide the commissioner with a copy of each annual operational audit performed pursuant to this paragraph within 10 days after the audit is finalized.

(b) The Auditor General shall notify the department of any organization that fails to comply with a request for information.

(13) LIABILITY.  The state is not liable for the award of or any use of awarded funds under this section.

(14) SCOPE OF AUTHORITY.   This section does not expand the regulatory authority of this state, its officers, or any school district to impose additional regulation on participating private schools beyond those reasonably necessary to enforce requirements expressly set forth in this section.

(15) RULES.   The State Board of Education shall adopt rules to administer this section.

 

NOTE:  This model bill is patterned after the Hope Scholarship Act for Victims of Bullying, which the State of Florida adopted in 2018.  The Florida program is a tax credit scholarship funded motor vehicle sales (in which buyers have the option of contributing $105 per vehicle to the scholarship fund in exchange for a motor vehicle tax credit of the same size). Whether funds for the Student Safety Scholarship come out of general revenues or out of designated tax credits is a question each state will need to determine for itself.