Dear Gardiner Parents:

Recently there has been a great deal of confusion and anxiety about the need for a “final verification document” from eligible private schools that allows Gardiner students to be funded prior to the “cross-checks” conducted by the Florida Department of Education. We’re sending this note to hopefully clarify what the law clearly requires of both parents and scholarship funding organizations like Step Up.

The Gardiner Program requires the Florida Department of Education to conduct a cross-check of eligible Gardiner students to public school enrollment, Voluntary Prekindergarten Education Program enrollment, and students participating in school choice scholarship programs prior to releasing the student’s funding each year. If the parent of a Gardiner student submits a final verification document, the eligible student may receive funding prior to the execution of the cross-check.

(9) DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION OBLIGATIONS.The department shall:

(e) Compare the list of students participating in the program with the public school student enrollment lists, Voluntary Prekindergarten Education Program enrollment lists, and the list of students participating in school choice scholarship programs established pursuant to this chapter before each scholarship award is provided to the organization, and subsequently throughout the school year, to avoid duplicate payments and confirm program eligibility. A parent who files a final verification pursuant to paragraph (3)(b) shall receive scholarship funds before the department confirms program eligibility.

Acceptable options for the final verification document are as follows:

In addition to the application and any documentation required by the organization or by State Board of Education rule, the parent may submit a final verification document pursuant to this paragraph to receive scholarship funds in the student’s account before the department confirms program eligibility pursuant to paragraph (9)(e). The final verification document must consist of one of the following items applicable to the student:

1. A completed withdrawal form from the school district, if the student was enrolled in a public school before the determination of program eligibility.

2. A letter of admission or enrollment from an eligible private school for the fiscal year in which the student wishes to participate and, if applicable, a copy of the notification from the private school that the student has withdrawn from the John M. McKay Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Program or the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program.

3. A copy of the notice of the parent’s intent to establish and maintain a home education program required by s. 1002.41(1)(a) or the annual educational evaluation of the student in a home education program, which is required by s. 1002.41(2).

Item number two above indicates the letter of admission or enrollment must be from an eligible private school. An eligible private school is specifically defined as the following, when used in s. 1002.385, Florida Statutes:

(2) DEFINITIONS.As used in this section, the term:

(g) “Eligible private school” means a private school, as defined in s. 1002.01, which is located in this state, which offers an education to students in any grade from kindergarten to grade 12, and which meets the requirements of:

1. Sections 1002.42 and 1002.421; and

2. A scholarship program under s. 1002.39 or s. 1002.395, as applicable, if the private school participates in a scholarship program under s. 1002.39 or s. 1002.395.

The reference to s. 1002.241 has key requirements as part of the definition of an eligible private school including these; indicates the private school must “notify the department of its intent to participate in a scholarship program” in addition to providing documentation related to background screening of staff with direct contact to students, demonstration of fiscal soundness, demonstration of meeting state and local health, safety, and welfare laws, codes, and rules, maintaining a physical location in the state.

What does this all mean for you?

If you submitted a letter of admission or enrollment as the final verification document for your student from a school that is not compliant to accept students on the Florida Tax Credit, John M McKay or Gardiner Scholarships, this private school does not meet the requirement for being an “eligible private school,” and Step Up For Students is not able to accept that document.

However, if your student was previously enrolled in a public school, you may provide a copy of the withdrawal document OR if your student was the subject of an annual evaluation, you may provide a copy of the evaluation summary, OR if you have a copy of your letter of intent to establish or maintain a home education program, you may provide a copy of that letter.

If none of these options are applicable to you, your student will need to be part of the cross-check before funding will be released. This cross-check will occur each month beginning in August.

We understand that some Gardiner parents are learning now that the private schools where they have enrolled their children are not considered eligible private schools under state law. This does not mean that Gardiner scholarship students cannot attend these schools for purposes of compulsory attendance. It only means that final verification documents from those schools cannot be accepted by scholarship funding organizations so that funding can be released prior to the cross checks. We are sorry for any confusion and inconvenience this may cause.

Please keep watching your email. If you are part of the affected group you will receive further communication.

If you have any further questions, please don’t hesitate to contact Step Up For Students by telephone at 877-735-7837, Monday through Friday from 8:30 am – 4:30 pm EST.

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