A few facts about the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship
The typical student
Lives near poverty:
The average household income is $24,798, or 9 percent above the federal poverty line. The standard for free or reduced lunch in public schools is 185 percent of poverty.
Is black or Hispanic:
Some 32 percent of students are black and 37 percent Hispanic. Roughly 24 percent are white.
Lives with one parent:
Fifty-four percent of the scholarship children are from single-parent households.
Has struggled academically:
A state-commissioned researcher has determined that scholarship students “tend to be among the lowest-performing students in their prior school, regardless of the performance level of their public school.”
The typical school
Is small in size:
The average total enrollment is 157 students.
Serves mostly private-paying students:
Of the 1,414 participating private schools, Step Up students make up an average of 24 percent of total enrollment. Only 137 schools serve more than 100 scholarship students.
Serves elementary students:
More than 42 percent of all scholarship students are in grades K-2 and 71 percent in grades K-5.
Seventy-one percent of the schools are faith-based. The 181 Catholic schools represent the largest single group.
The law requires
The scholarship is only for low-income students:
To initially receive a scholarship, a student’s household income cannot exceed 185 percent of poverty, which is the standard for free or reduced-price lunch.
Scholarship students are tested:
Every scholarship student in grades 3-10 is required to take a nationally norm-referenced test approved by the state.
Academic gains are measured and reported:
A University of Florida research team each year publicly reports the test gains in reading and math, both statewide and for schools with at least 30 students.
Scholarship money is monitored:
Every school receiving more than $250,000 in scholarship money each year must file a financial report by an independent CPA.
The growing support
The Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program was expanded in 2010 to serve more low-income students, making it both the largest and most accountable program of its type in the nation. The law lets the program grow to better meet student demand. The tax credit was increased from $229 million to $286 million in 2013-2014 and can grow by 25 percent any year after which 90 percent of the cap is met. At the same time, the scholarship amount will eventually grow to 80 percent of the basic operational spending formula for public school students.
The bill passed the House and Senate by a bipartisan majority of 122-34, which included the support of nearly half the Democrats, a majority of the Black Caucus and all but two in the Hispanic Caucus. Al Lawson, the Senate’s dean and an African-American legislator from Tallahassee, stood to make the closing arguments in support of the bill. “This gives us a unique opportunity because some of these kids are the poorest of the poor who get this opportunity to attend these schools,” Sen. Lawson said. “I know in my community how these kids are doing and how much they have been able to benefit from this, and I will tell you that you should just embrace these kids and listen to these kids and what they tell you about how rewarding it has been.”
The day the Florida Senate voted to approve the expansion – on March 24, 2010 – some 5,521 mostly low-income students, parents, educators and advocates marched to the Capitol in the largest parental choice rally in the nation.
More low-income students are choosing this option
Read more about the 2014 legislative session here