Florida tax credit scholarships hit record level
Participation in Florida's tax credit scholarship program, which helps low-income students pay tuition at private schools, has surpassed 90,000 children for the first time, scholarship organization Step Up for Students announced Thursday.
The partial total of 92,011 scholarships is up 17 percent from a year ago, and more than 550 percent from 2005. The state's new Gardiner education savings account also served 5,844 students with special needs. A second, smaller scholarship authorizer did not issue numbers.
"Florida is a national leader in expanding educational opportunity, and the latest numbers again show that parents appreciate the power to access additional options that can best serve their children," Step Up president Doug Tuthill, said in a news release. "We are proud to be part of this growing, bipartisan movement to strengthen public education."
The statistics arrived just days after an appeals court dismissed the Florida Education Association's challenge to the program, saying the union lacked standing to bring the lawsuit. The court found that the tax credit scholarship money is not part of the state budget, as it's donated to private organizations that distribute the funds. The donors then get a tax credit from the state.
This year, the average income level for scholarship recipients was $24,075, or 4.4 percent above poverty. Sixty-nine percent of scholarship students are black or Hispanic.
Going forward lawmakers have made it easier for more middle-class families to qualify for partial scholarships. The most impoverished students are given priority for the money, though. And with the challenge diminishing, advocates are expecting the program to grow larger.
Locally, tax credit scholarship activity looks like this: Hernando County, 869 students, up 29.7 percent in one year; Hillsborough County, 4,361 students, up 22.65 percent; Pasco County, 1,078 students, down 2.3 percent; and Pinellas County, 3,486 students, up 18.8 percent.
UPDATE 8/26/16: Step Up for Students issued revised data on Friday, saying the overall numbers were accurate but some county figures were miscalculated.
Locally, the fixed figures show Hernando schools had 814 participants, up 21.5 percent year to year; Hillsborough, 4,260 students, up 19.7 percent; Pasco, 1,323 students, up 19.9 percent; and Pinellas, 3,428 students, up 16.8 percent.