Basic Program Facts about the
Florida Tax Credit Scholarship (FTC)

SUFS Dreams_CMYK_2560x1500Florida created the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship in 2001 to give low-income students one learning option that is not available to them because of their financial circumstances. It allows them to consider whether a private school might be a better fit academically.

The program served 77,927 students in 1,582 private schools throughout the state during the 2015-16 school year, and the mix is truly eclectic. The schools that have chosen to join the cause of helping underprivileged students run the gamut – everything from the six-student Walden Middle School in Gulfport to the 1,512-student Archbishop Edward A. McCarthy High School in Fort Lauderdale. The average school in the 2014-2015 school year has 45 scholarship students.

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Lives near poverty: The average household income is $25,557, or 7.2 percent above poverty. The standard for free or reduced lunch in public schools is 185 percent of poverty.

Is black or Hispanic: Some 30 percent of students are black and 38 percent Hispanic. Roughly 24 percent are white and another 3 percent identify as multi-racial.

Lives with one parent: 58.3 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.”

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Is small in size:  The average total enrollment is 161 students.

Serves mostly private-paying students: Of the 1,582 participating private schools, Step Up students make up an average of 24 percent of total enrollment. Only 182 schools serve more than 100 scholarship students.

Serves elementary students: Of the 77,927 students served, 37 percent of all scholarship students are in grades K-2 and 66 percent in grades K-5.

Is faith-based: 75 percent of the schools are faith-based. The 193 Catholic schools represent the largest single group.

state-capitol5E16C13D0B60The 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.

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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 $353 million to $447.3 million in 2015-2016 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

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