Florida School Choice Fund: Finalist's Statement
Florida School Choice Fund
The mission of the Florida School Choice Fund (FSCF) is to improve Florida's K-12 educational system by advancing public policy that empowers parents to choose the school that best meets their child's learning needs. We believe that empowering low-income parents with choice will help spur improvements in the public schools.
Currently in Florida, less than half of minority students will graduate from high school and only 20% of those high school graduates will be college ready. Inequitable education plays a major factor in maintaining wealth inequality for low-income families in Florida. Reform of the education system is key to breaking the cycle of poverty, and school choice is an essential reform tool.
Our idea was to improve public education by giving 10% of low-income families the right to direct taxpayer funds to nonpublic schools. In 2001, we set out to pass legislation to make our idea a reality. At the end of 2001, the Florida legislature approved the Corporate Tax Credit (CTC) Scholarship Program, now known as Step up for Students. The program allows companies to redirect up to 75% of their state corporate income tax payments at no cost to state-approved scholarship programs that help low-income parents send their children to a private school of their choice, or to pay for transportation to an out-of-district public school. Scholarships for K-12 students are awarded in the amount of up to $3,500 for private tuition or $500 in transportation scholarships.
Only families that qualify for the free and reduced-price lunch program are eligible for the scholarship program. The average income of the families receiving scholarships is about $22,000 with a household size of four, and 60% of the applicants live in single-parent homes. The average age of the student applicant is 9, and approximately 74% are minorities.
By law, every dollar raised under the tax-credit program must be used for scholarships; not a single penny can be used for administrative or fund-raising costs. In addition to raising the money for scholarships, FSCF raises most of the administrative funds as well. The program operates with less than 3% administrative and fund-raising costs.
To date, more than $200 million has been raised for CTC scholarships. As a result, the program has grown to include 15,000 students receiving CTC scholarships. Due to the tremendous growth of the program, the cap was raised from $50 million to $88 million, enabling more money to be raised for scholarships. With more scholarships available, more students have the opportunity to attend the best school for them, ensuring them a brighter future.
Corporations participating in the Step up for Students scholarship program see a return on their investment. In addition to raising the educational achievement level for students, an added benefit of this program has been the reduction of costs for quality education. Two respected research groups, Florida Tax Watch and the Collins Center for Public Policy, have issued reports stating that the program will save taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars in the coming decade.
FSCF's goal is to empower 100,000 low-income children with school choice. Although that may take another 5 to 10 years, we persist because we believe that what we are doing will help not just the children on our program but also all of those who remain in the public schools.