Gov. Scott says Tax Credit Scholarship adds value to Florida public education

December 12, 2012 | Tampa, Fla. – Gov. Rick Scott spoke Wednesday to a celebration of the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship for low-income children, the program for providing options to Florida families and providing dramatic savings for taxpayers.

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“We work to give every student and every parent learning options that work best for their families,” Scott said. “Florida families deserve the best opportunities possible for their children, and programs like the Tax Credit Scholarship help them to achieve those goals.

“The program is also delivering incredible savings for taxpayers and adding value into our state’s education system. A Florida legislative committee estimates the scholarships will save $220 million over five years. That’s hundreds of millions of dollars that go right back into providing children access to a quality education.”

Scott was speaking at the Tampa Museum of Art to an annual donor appreciation dinner that included 200 corporate leaders, legislators, educators and families who participate in the program. The scholarship, in its 11th year, is serving 50,821 students in 1,322 private schools, and is fueled by corporate contributions that a receive a dollar-for-dollar tax credit from the state.

Among the legislators attending the event was House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, who sponsored a bill in 2010 that strengthened the scholarship and allows it to grow each year so long as companies are contributing and more students are choosing it. Enrollment has doubled in the past four years, with an additional 10,000 students on a waiting list this year. Also, this year, companies gave $229 million in tax-credited contributions.

Executives from several of those companies spoke about why they contribute.

“By increasing access to scholarship funding for low-income students, we are helping ensure a stronger and more qualified workforce in Florida for years to come,” said Bryan Anderson, Vice President of Government Relations for HCA, which has contributed $70 million to the scholarships since 2005. “This is not just another way we can touch lives. We believe it is perhaps another method for us to save lives, without the use of our physicians’ hands.”

“We work to give every student and every parent learning options that work best for their families. Florida families deserve the best opportunities possible for their children, and programs like the Tax Credit Scholarship help them to achieve those goals.”Governor Rick Scott

“We recognize that today’s students are tomorrow’s educators, business, and political leaders, and we consider it our duty to help provide them with educational opportunities,” said Bob Drinon, President and CEO of Premier Beverage, which has contributed $39 million over the past two years. “All children should be blessed with the opportunity to succeed and many times that opportunity begins early on in the classroom.”

“At UnitedHealthcare, we strive to help people live healthier lives,” said David Lewis, CEO, UnitedHealthcare of Florida, which has contributed $29 million since 2009. “We believe that living a healthy lifestyle is about living well, and a big part of living well is having access to quality education.”

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Davion Manuel-Mckenney, left, with his mother Faith Manuel, spoke at the 2012 donor celebration

The scholarship, worth $4,335, is available only for students who meet the guidelines for free or reduced-price lunch, and the average household income for students this year is $23,579 — or only 6 percent above the federal poverty level. About two-thirds of the students are black or Hispanic and more than half living in single-parent households. The state’s researcher says those choosing the scholarship were among the lowest academic performers in the public schools they left behind and, in the most recent standardized tests, scholarship students achieved the same gains in reading and math as students of all incomes nationally.

Faith Manuel, an Ormond Beach mother who had a son at age 15, told the audience that she switched Davion to Calvary Christian Academy, and he quickly felt as though he was part of a family. He just completed his first semester at Florida State College in Jacksonville. “Thank you for his scholarship and for amazing opportunity to stand here before you tonight,” she said.

The dinner was sponsored by John Kirtley, a Tampa businessman who is chairman of the nonprofit Step Up For Students, the state-approved “scholarship funding organization” that administers the Tax Credit Scholarship. The scholarship is the largest of its type in the nation and was recently described in Education Week as a national model. Step Up For Students is rated Four Stars by Charity Navigator, the nation’s largest independent charity watchdog, and received a score of 68.12 of 70 in the most recent evaluation.

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