Bullied students look forward to new schools thanks to Sunshine Scholarship

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Abigail Taylor goes to Burnett Middle School, but it won't be her home for much longer.

The 8th-grader says, perhaps, the change is a blessing. It means she won't have to encounter the girl who has been bullying her anymore.

"It really hurts to feel like that one person, in a way, just hates you and doesn’t want to be close to you, and is hurting you and calling you names," Taylor says.

For the 14-year-old, that name-calling recently escalated to physical fighting, with broken glasses and a doctor's visit.

Cynthia Dowell, Abby's grandmother says the two are moving to another school district for a few reasons, including the bullying.

Dowell says sometimes it feels like she has few options in the fight to get justice and peace of mind for her granddaughter. She would like to see more done to punish bullies.

"Having to take her to the hospital, having to have her neck x-rayed, having her sprained neck--sprained back. Her hips were sore," Dowell describes. "Four or five days, she's going back to school, and the bully's already back there again, and the kids are already starting again, and she hasn't even healed yet. It’s not a comfortable feeling."

Starting next school year, though, a new measure may help kids like Abby.

The Hope Scholarship passed the state legislature as part of a larger education bill and was signed by Governor Rick Scott.

The scholarship, which would pay for victims of bullying to transfer to another public or private school, will be in place in time for next school year.

Rep. Manny Diaz (R-Hialeah) is the bill's author and has been fighting for this measure for years.

"My background is in education," Rep. Diaz says. "I was a classroom teacher and school-side administrator, so I’ve firsthand witnessed bullying and what it can do in schools and seen frustrated parents with limitations because of their zip code or because of their financial situation not being able to make other decisions for their child."

According to Rep. Diaz, the state expects to spend $40 million in the coming year on Hope scholarships, a figure based on statewide bullying statistics and current use of state scholarships.

The money would come from tax credits. When people purchase a vehicle, they will now have the option to donate $105 in exchange for a tax credit, so instead of that money going to the state, it would go directly to scholarships.

Not everyone approves of this measure, including Rep. Shevrin Jones (D-West Park).

Rep. Jones said this of the Hope Scholarship:

"The Hope Scholarship program creates yet another voucher system which will continue to siphon millions of dollars away from our traditional public schools each year. Florida’s public education system will now have to share an even larger portion of dedicated dollars with privately-run schools.

Even worse, the legislation doesn’t call for private schools receiving our tax dollars to be accredited, have an updated and useful curriculum, or to have a bullying prevention policy.

The continuous redirecting of funds to charters will further crack the foundation of Florida’s public education system."

Dowell says having Abby leave her school would not have been her first choice, saying it's like putting a Bandaid on the problem. However, she believes until policies change on how the bullies, themselves, are addressed, it is a solution many victims may want to take.

"She doesn't need the drama from this stuff. She needs to work on math and reading and writing and science," Dowell says. "She wants to be a vet. She needs to focus on the things she needs to do--not fight."

"You don't really know when it's going to stop," Abby says, of the bullying. "Because it goes on and on and on."