Charter school employees now eligible for adoption bonuses – News Chief

Employees of charter and virtual schools soon will be able to take advantage of a one-time bonus for adopting children from Florida's foster care system.

LAKELAND Employees of charter and virtual schools soon will be able to take advantage of a one-time bonus for adopting children from Floridas foster care system.

Gov. Rick Scott last week signed into law a bill that amends Florida Statute 409.1664, which provides up to $10,000 for each child. The bonus is available to certain state employees, including teachers.

Prior to the amendment, employees of charter and virtual schools were excluded.

Scotts signature opens the door for families like Daniel and Jessica Lauk of Lakeland, who last year adopted four siblings, ages 7 and younger at the time, to apply for the bonus during the open enrollment period that begins March 1, 2018, and ends the last work day in April.

It was through the Lauks urging that state Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, introduced a bill to extend adoption benefits to employees of charter and virtual schools. State Rep. Neil Combee, R-Polk City, filed a companion bill in the House.

The bills sailed through the legislative committee process unopposed. It grants a one-time benefit of $5,000 for adopting any child from foster care, and a $10,000 benefit for children with special needs, those who are physically or emotionally handicapped, or from a racially mixed family. Sibling groups of two or more are included.

Legislators added a clause making benefits available to people who have worked in charter or virtual schools since July 1, 2015, and adopted a child during that time.

Daniel Lauk, a history teacher at McKeel Academy of Technology, a Lakeland charter school, applauded the bills passage.

Its been pretty exciting to see it all the way through, he said. It tells you what perseverance and hard work does.

The special monetary benefit was designed to boost adoptions in a state where as many as 14,000 children are living in foster homes at any given time.

Currently, 20 children are waiting to be adopted in Polk, Highlands and Hardee counties, all ages 12 and older.

A majority have been available for adoption for quite some time, said Kim Daugherty, spokeswoman for Heartland for Children, the nonprofit overseeing adoptions in the three-county district for the Florida Department of Children and Families.

I definitely think this is a great benefit, Daugherty said. They need a forever home.

Eligibility extends to full- or part-time state employees, excluding temporary workers.

Benefits are provided on a first-come, first-served basis, as long as funds last, but there should be enough money available to handle any new adoptions made possible by the recent amendment, said Bob Rooks, director of Florida's Adoption Information Center.

"They haven't run out of money yet that I know of," he said.

Rooks said applicants should wait until the end of November, in case of any last-minute additions or changes to the new law, to request an application packet. All forms are to be submitted electronically.

Information pertaining to the adoption benefit also is available through workplace human resources offices.

For more information, contact the Adoption Information Center, 800-962-3678, or email stateemployee.adoption@myfamilies.com.

Eric Pera can be reached at eric.pera@theledger.com or 863-802-7528.

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Charter school employees now eligible for adoption bonuses - News Chief

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