Senator proposes bill to give scholarship money to bullied students in order to go to private school

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OKLAHOMA CITY – “He has been beaten multiple times in the head with a fist as he was walking in a classroom at the middle school,” Jessica Visalli said.

She’s a parent, pushing for new rules: giving bullied students in public schools scholarships to private institutions.

“Not everybody is blessed enough to be able to pull their kids out of public school and put them in a private school where maybe this won’t happen. This bill meant that,” she said.

Senator Rob Standridge wrote Senate Bill 570 to create the Hope Scholarship Program Act.

“I mean we’re going to get to a point if we don’t start providing some other options, that parents and grandparents are going to be afraid to send their kids to school.”

The bill comes out of an interim study Sen. Standridge hosted last September.

“I mean we’ve had children here to the capitol about bullying from all over the state and some of them brought presentations. If they all believe it’s a problem, and the parents of all those kids think it’s a problem, eventually somebody like me has to start doing something,” Standridge said.

Standridge says he understands there’s bullying at private schools as well but wants to give those who may not have resources the option to choose.

“They’re the decision maker. Not us. So I think the parent should be empowered to make that choice.”

Students would need three documented cases of bullying within a school year to get the private school scholarship.

The cost would be $5 million from the state’s education budget.

With a 6 to 10 vote, the education committee Tuesday said “no,” including Senator John Haste, District 6 from Tulsa & Wagoner.

“I’ve been contacted by administrators and school superintendents within my district about they wanting me to vote no because of taking funds away from schools, public education,” said Haste.

He says he understands bullying is an issue in schools– but it’s found in both public and private schools. Cara O’Daniel says she thinks bullied kids need more options.

“If they had walked in the shoes we walked in and almost lost our son more than one time I would guarantee you they would have voted differently.”

Senator Standridge says he may try a similar bill again this legislative session.

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