Bay Area schools offer vouchers profiled by president

- Several schools offer the same type of voucher program the president is pushing and they say they can see benefits.

At Bayshore Christian School on South MacDill Avenue in Tampa, the 244 students walking the hallways come from different backgrounds and zip codes. The diversity is credited in part to a school voucher program that offers scholarships, either full or partial, to low income students.

Bayshore Christian is one of many private and charter schools in the Tampa that offers Florida Tax Credit Scholarships (FTC) through the Step Up for Students Program.

"Not all students have the ability to afford a private independent school tuition, so what that does is it helps bridge the gap and allows individuals the opportunity to come to our school that would otherwise not have that opportunity," said Melanie Humenansky, who heads Bayshore Christian.

The school has offered FTC scholarships for about 10 years, but over the past five years, officials said the demand has increased. Many parents turn to private schools in search of a more intimate class settings, something that's harder to find at public schools facing issues of overcrowding.

"I just appreciate the smaller classes. I like the family feel that we have here, so this was our choice," said Heather Conley, whose children are in kindergarten and second grade.

During a visit to Orlando on Friday, President Donald Trump made a stop at Saint Andrews Catholic School to praise the success of the Florida voucher program. Many of the students at Saint Andrews are attending the private school on scholarship.

"Saint Andrews Catholic School represents one of the many parochial schools dedicated to the education of some of our most disadvantaged children, but they're becoming just the opposite very rapidly through education and with the help of the school choice programs," said President Trump.

The president said one of the goals on his education agenda is to expand the same voucher program to other states across the country. He said it provides parents with more choices.

Opponents protest outside of Saint Andrews on Friday, arguing that the voucher program takes federal dollars away from public schools and gives them to private schools which are less regulated.

"We don't want our public schools weakened. We want to preserve and strengthen them," said Wndy Dormal, president of the Orange County Teacher's Association.

There are about 100,000 Florida students currently enrolled in the Step Up for Students program. Humenansky said she has seen the benefits of the program at her school when it comes to diversity

"From academics, to athletics, to performing arts, we want to make sure that students are well diverse and ready for the next step in society," said Humenansky.

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