Florida's tax-credit scholarship program is becoming an option for an increasing number of families in Pinellas and throughout the state. The program, which aims to give low-income families a broader choice of schools, continues to report tremendous growth.
In the last decade, participation has increased at a clip of 22 percent each year. More than 60,000 students statewide have received scholarships for this school year, up from 51,000 last year and 21,500 six years ago.
Pinellas has one of the highest participation rates in the state with more than 2,100 students in the program this year, compared with fewer than 500 in 2007-08. The scholarships, also known as vouchers, cover private school tuition or can pay a student's transportation costs to a public school in another county.
To pay for the scholarships, corporations redirect money they owe for certain state taxes to Step Up for Students, the organization that manages the program. The state, in turn, gives those corporations $1 in tax credits for every dollar they give.
To qualify, students must be eligible for the federal free and reduced-price lunch program. This year, the scholarships are valued at up to $4,880.
Application time is approaching for the 2014-15 school year. Students who have a scholarship for this year can apply now. Families who are new to the program and want to try for a scholarship for next year can apply in February.
Visit stepupforstudents.org or call toll-free 1-877-735-7837 for more detailed information.