This year Florida lawmakers approved a dramatic expansion of private school vouchers. Supporters of the corporation-funded scholarships that enable low-income students to attend private schools say vouchers provide families with more options. Critics, who say public schools are still not adequately funded, fear the expansion may lead to vouchers for all students. Here's a look at the issue:
What did the bill do?
It significantly increased the value of each voucher, increased how much corporations can donate and mapped out accountability measures, such as standardized test scores and financial accounting to the state if a school receives more than $250,000 in voucher revenue.
How much is each voucher worth?
Each is worth $4,106 for the 2010-11 school year. The value will rise over several years until it reaches 80 percent of the state's per-pupil funding, which is currently $6,843.51.
What do they pay for?
Tuition and books. Eligible students can also get up to $500 for transportation if their school of choice is outside their district.
Students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunches based on their parents' income. For example, a household of two people whose gross income is less than $2,247 a month may be eligible. Students must also have attended public school for a year before application, except for kindergarteners and first-graders.
How many schools statewide and locally accept vouchers?
In Florida: 1,033 religious and nonreligious schools.
How many students statewide and locally used vouchers this past school year?
In Florida: 28,927
How much is the program expected to grow?
Step Up For Students, the Tampa organization that administers it, estimates that 4,000 to 5,000 more students will use vouchers in the 2010-11 school year. If the growth trends continue, 70,000 could be enrolled by 2015.
How much has the program awarded since inception?
About $427 million since 2002-03.
How much more can corporations donate?
The cap was increased from $118 million to $140 million, with a provision that allows it to increase in the future.
Do voucher students have to take the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test?
No, but they must take a nationally recognized standardized test and their results must be reported to the state.
Can you lose a voucher?
Yes, if income exceeds the eligibility guidelines or if a student does not take a standardized test. Students must apply to renew their scholarships every year.
How do I apply or find out more?
Call 1-877-735-7837 or visit stepupforstudents.org/index.php.
Sources: Step Up For Students, the Florida Department of Education, Times files