Local schools could lose programs under education bill passed by Florida lawmakers

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — West Tampa Elementary School is among the poorest in Hillsborough County. 99 percent of the students at the school receive free or subsidized lunches.

Still, Onita Harrison’s great-grandchildren love the school.

“This is their home. They’d rather be here than be at home,” says Harrison, who is the primary caregiver for the children.

A key reason the children love the school is a reading program. But, the program and several others at schools like this may be cut under an education bill approved by the Florida Legislature.

“How are you going to take something away that is educating the kids? I have never seen a child who wants to come to a school just for a reading program. One of my kids was in the after school reading program and she came to school sick, because she wanted to be in that reading program,” said Harrison.

Democratic Congresswoman Kathy Castor and others are urging Florida Governor Rick Scott to veto the bill.

“In essence, what this harmful education bill is, it continues to divert our tax dollars from our public schools,” said Castor.

Castor says HB 7069 cuts funds from vital public school programs in order to fund charter schools.

RELATED: School groups calling on Florida Gov. to veto education bill

Castor believes if the bill is approved by the governor, it will reverse the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 that is a pair of civil rights bills approved more than 50 years ago to help fund impoverished schools.

Castor believes it should stay that way.

“For students that need a little extra help, that come from areas of poverty, we are going to send a little extra help,” said Castor.

State Representative Sean Shaw says HB 7069 is a 228-page monster that was pushed through the legislature at the last-minute with little chance for challenge or review.

“I think this eviscerates our public schools and while I believe that parents ought to have the choice to do stuff, it’s when we involve tax dollars, it’s when we put charter schools on even playing fields with public schools in terms of dollars to build their facilities or repair their facilities, that’s just not right,” said Shaw.

Onita Harrison just wants her great-grandchildren to be able to continue in their reading programs.

“We need the money from title one to help our children,” said Harrison.

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