Florida 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.
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.”
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.
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.
More low-income students are choosing this option