'Pro-Education' Florida Broadens School Choices
When Florida’s roughly 2.8 million grade school children head back to class this fall, some will be in all new schools. A new law signed in the spring expands upon the state’s Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program (FTC) and Family Empowerment Scholarship Program (FES).
FTC provides state tax credits for voluntary contributions by taxpayers to a non-profit scholarship funding organization. It also awards students scholarships for the cost of tuition and fees at an eligible private school or transportation expenses to a Florida public school in which a student is enrolled and that is different from the school to which the student was assigned.
FTC is available to any student who is a Florida resident and is eligible to enroll in kindergarten through grade 12 in a public school. Each parent of an eligible student will receive a savings account to take education dollars earmarked for their child in the public education system and choose from among a variety of education options.
The FES program includes two types of scholarships:
1. The Family Empowerment Scholarship for Educational Options (FES-EO). This assists eligible students to pay for the tuition and fees for a private school or transportation to another public school. The program also offers families of eligible students a $750 scholarship for transportation to a public school different from the school to which the student was assigned. The average scholarship under FES-EO is roughly $7,600, or about 74 percent of the average expenditure per student at Florida’s district schools.
2. The Family Empowerment Scholarship for Students with Unique Abilities (FES-UA). This provides access to additional education options for a student with a disability by covering the cost of a variety of approved services, curriculum, instructional materials, and tutoring.
The vision of having “funds follow the student” will impact public and charter schools. Under the law, children enrolled in these schools are ineligible to receive FES and FTC scholarships. Thus, use may draw students and government spending toward eligible private schools. Additional scholarships from private schools may further lower barriers to entry for prospective students. Additionally, private schools now will be able to use FTC and FES-EO funds for authorized expenses, including instructional materials, curriculum, and contracted services provided by a public school or school district, including classes.
Finally, under the law, Florida public and charter schools now may enroll a student on a part-time basis, subject to space and availability. These students will generate full-time equivalent student membership.
Lawmakers say the new law will give parents more choices, boost competition among schools and raise the quality of education in Florida. Interested parents can learn more at aaascholarships.org and stepupforstudents.org.
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Thomas B. Sternberg
Associate with Tripp Scott, focusing his practice on education law and government affairs.