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.

Step Up awarded scholarships to 92,344 economically disadvantaged students during the 2016-2017 school year. Overall, the scholarship program served 92,344 students in 1,665 private schools throughout the state, 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 2016-2017 school year had 55 scholarship students.

Learn more about the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship below or download the 2016-17 Fact Sheet here.


Lives near poverty: The average household income is $24,075, or 4.4 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 39 percent Hispanic. Roughly 26 percent are white and another 3 percent identify as multi-racial.

Lives with one parent: 55 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.”


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

Serves mostly private-paying students: Of the 1,665 participating private schools, Step Up students make up an average of 24 percent of total enrollment. Only 289 schools serve more than 100 scholarship students.

Serves elementary students: Of the 92,344 students served, 37 percent of all scholarship students are in grades K-2 and 66 percent in grades K-5.

Is faith-based: 69 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.


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 2016-2017 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. Six years later, more than 10,000 parents, students and teachers rallied at the Capitol in support of the scholarship program. The program continues to grow to this day.

More low-income students are choosing this option

2015_16 FTC Growth


More low-income students are choosing this option


Basic Program Facts about the
Gardiner Scholarship (PLSA)

SUFS Dreams_CMYK_2560x1500The Gardiner Scholarship program (formerly known as the Personal Learning Scholarship Accounts or PLSA) is a unique program for children with special needs. The scholarship allows parents to personalize the education of their children by directing money toward a combination of programs and approved providers. Florida became the second state in the nation, after Arizona, to create an education savings account program for children with special needs in 2014.

Florida’s newest school choice program began enrolling students less than two months after being signed into law. More than 1,500 students received scholarships in the inaugural 2014-15 school year.

In 2016, the Florida legislature renamed the program in honor of Florida Senate President Andy Gardiner and his family. Gardiner and his wife Camille have championed the cause of children with unique abilities for many years. The Gardiners have two daughters and a son, Andrew, who has Down syndrome.

Learn more about the Gardiner Scholarship program below or download the 2016-17 Gardiner Scholarship Fact Sheet here.


$76.3 million is available for the Gardiner Scholarship in 2016-17. Step Up has awarded 6,163 scholarships so far. Scholarships are available on a rolling basis and are prorated quarterly. As of September 7, more than 4,000 scholarship accounts have been funded, representing $41 million in scholarships.

Step Up managed the scholarship accounts of 4,692 students and AAA Scholarships served an additional 256 for the 2015-16 school year. In all, $47.3 million in scholarships were awarded.

For 2016-17:

  • 61 percent of students were diagnosed with autism
  • 20 percent have an intellectual disability
  • 6 percent have multiple disabilities
  • 5 percent were diagnosed as a “high-risk” child
  • 3 percent have cerebral palsy,
  • 3 percent have Down syndrome
  • 2 percent were diagnosed with one of the other eligible disabilities such as Prader-Willi syndrome, spina bifida, and Williams Syndrome.

Student eligibility: This scholarship is for Florida students 3-years old through 12th  grade, or up to age 22, with one of the following disabilities: autism spectrum disorder, muscular dystrophy, cerebral  palsy,  Down  syndrome, Phelan-McDermid syndrome, Prader-Willi  syndrome,  Spina  bifida,  Williams  syndrome or Intellectual  Disability  (severe  cognitive  impairment). Also, students aged 3 to 5 deemed  “high  risk”  because of developmental delays may be eligible.

Students can continue to receive scholarship funding until they graduate from high school, reach age 22 or return to public school. Unspent money in the account rolls over from year to year and is refunded to the state if the student has not enrolled in any eligible post secondary institution for three consecutive years following high school graduation.

 Scholarship account value: The scholarship amount varies according to grade and county but averages about $10,200 per student. The scholarship is higher for students whose disability is rated above a level 3 (known as Matrix 253). The parent may request an evaluation from the school district to determine whether the student qualifies.


The Gardiner scholarship allows parents to truly customize the education for their children. In a busy week Step Up will process more than 1,000 unique reimbursement requests totaling more than $1 million.


Eligible expenses: The Gardiner Scholarship can be used to pay for tuition and fees at an eligible private school, applied behavior analysis services, speech-language pathologists, occupational therapy, physical therapy, services from listening and spoken language specialists, private tutoring from a certified teacher, virtual programs or online courses, exam fees, contract services from school districts, contributions to the state prepaid college program, instructional materials such as digital devices and assistive technology, and curriculum materials. Preapproved expenses can be viewed here.

Reimbursements and provider payments: Parents may seek reimbursement for approved expenses by submitting receipts online with a description of the educational purpose of the purchase. Participating service providers, such as therapists, tutors and schools, may also invoice parents and be paid directly from the account. Parents may review the scholarship handbook here.


The bill creating the Personal Learning Scholarship Accounts (now called the Gardiner Scholarship ) passed largely along party lines and was signed into law in June, 2014. Before the first scholarships were awarded the Florida Education Association filed suit against the state to end the fledgling program. Lawyers for the teacher union called the special needs students a “collateral casualty” of the lawsuit.  The lawsuit was dismissed in December, 2014.

Over the next two years an outpouring of support from parents helped the public understand the impact of scholarships for children with unique abilities.

By the 2016 legislative session the Gardiner Scholarship received nearly unanimous support for an expansion bill. That bill made students with muscular dystrophy and all students along the autism spectrum eligible for scholarships, while the eligibility age was dropped to 3- and 4-year olds. The state legislature also increased the program funding to $71 million, enough for approximately 7,000 scholarships.

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