Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Florida’s new reading scholarships slowly gain traction

More than 187,000 Florida third- and fourth-graders received scores of 2 or lower on their language arts state exams last spring.

All would qualify for a new Reading Scholarship of up to $500, which lawmakers established to help families afford additional tutoring or other materials aimed at improving the children's reading skills. Lawmakers allocated $9.7 million toward the program, meaning scholarships could be offered on a first come-first served basis to more than 18,000 students.

Yet data from Florida's largest scholarship funding organization, Step Up For Students, shows just a handful have sought the added funding.

According to the group, 2,080 students had been conditionally approved to receive the award. That means Step Up had reviewed the applications and sent them to the Department of Education to ensure eligibility.

Step Up has another list of applicants being prepared. Once the department signs off, that money can be distributed.

Of note, many of the state's largest districts, which don't have a lack of potentially eligible students, have almost no participants in the program.

The data, which is based on information provided by parents, indicates that Miami-Dade County had 21 students in line for the scholarships, with Duval County also at 21, Broward County at 48 and Palm Beach County at 75.

To put that in perspective, Pasco County had 23 more applicants than those districts combined.

Only Orange County showed any sort of significant activity, with 632 students winning preliminary approval for the funds.

In some districts, charter schools had higher participation rates than district schools.

The data had some observers questioning whether school officials were supplying adequate information to families about the scholarship availability. Some had details on their websites, while others did not.

Step Up officials said they would update the data as more details become available.

Related coverage: New Florida scholarship aims to boost third-grade readers 

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