Florida Tax Credit Scholarship students are making solid academic gains, and their parents are highly satisfied

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: June 11, 2010

A new state report concludes that students on the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship are making solid academic gains even though they were among the lowest-performing and poorest children from their public schools. The report also found overwhelming satisfaction among participating parents.

The findings trace to the 2008-09 school year, and use nationally norm-referenced tests to determine that scholarship students made the same gains in reading and math as students of all income levels nationally. The researcher also compared the scores to low-income students in Florida public schools and found the same gains in reading and slightly larger gains in math.

“What makes this so rewarding is that these are the students who were having the greatest trouble in their previous schools,” said John Kirtley, chairman of Step Up For Students, the nonprofit scholarship organization that helps administer the scholarships. “We can see how sometimes it just takes a different setting for them to get back on track academically.”

“As a longstanding and ardent supporter of school choice options for parents, I’m pleased to see that students who are taking advantage of the FTC Scholarship Program are finding educational settings that best meet their individual needs,” said state Education Commissioner Dr. Eric J. Smith. “FTC scholarships continue to be a fantastic resource for low-income families, and the high marks of satisfaction from parents, combined with the improved performance of so many students, really emphasizes the positive value of this program.”

The Tax Credit Scholarship, which is limited to students whose household income qualifies them for free or reduced-price lunch, served 27,700 students in 1,017 different private schools last year. It is financed by companies whose contributions receive a dollar-for-dollar state tax credit. This spring, the State Legislature expanded the program, increased the scholarship amount and added new testing and financial controls. The maximum annual scholarship this fall will be $4,106, which is roughly 41 percent of the total per-student cost in public schools.

The report released today by the Department of Education is the result of a 2006 law that requires every scholarship student to take a nationally norm-referenced test. DOE contracted with the University of Florida and respected Northwestern University researcher David Figlio to analyze the results, and Figlio issued three basic academic findings:

  • The program is attracting students who have significant academic problems in public schools. “Scholarship participants have significantly poorer test performance in the year prior to starting the scholarship program than do non-participants. … These differences are large in magnitude and are statistically significant, and indicate that scholarship participants tend to be considerably more disadvantaged and lower-performing upon entering the program than their non-participating counterparts.”
  • The students measured up against national competition. The mean reading gain was -0.1 percentile and math was -1.1 percentile, meaning: “The typical student participating in the program tended to maintain his or her relative position in comparison with others nationwide. It is important to note that these national comparisons pertain to all students nationally, and not just low-income students.”
  • The students had roughly the same gains as low-income students in public schools: “no differences in reading gains and possibly small improvements in mathematics.” Figlio went on to note that a study released last week showed increases in public school scores for low-income students, writing that: “Students who have transferred to the private sector using a FTC Scholarship appear to be keeping pace with the gains observed in the public sector.”

The report also found a 95.4 percent approval rating among participating parents. Of that total, 75.1 percent said their schools were “excellent” and 20.3 percent said they were “good.” The survey, conducted in March 2009, also sought the views of low-income parents with children in public schools and found them one-third as likely to rank their schools excellent and 13 times more likely to rate their schools as poor.

“We work for these parents,” said Doug Tuthill, president of the scholarship organization and a former teacher union president. “Our job is to help them access the learning options they need to educate their children.  To see these high levels of parent satisfaction is gratifying.”