Enrollment in Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program Hits Record High, Despite Lawsuit

Published October 6, 2016

More than 90,000 Florida children will participate in the state’s tax credit scholarship program during the 2016–17 school year.

The Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program, enacted in 2001, provides children from low-income households scholarships worth up to $5,886 to spend on private school tuition. The Florida Department of Education website states, “The law provides for state tax credits for contributions to nonprofit scholarship funding organizations, (SFOs). The SFOs then award scholarships to eligible children of low-income families.”

“The partial total of 92,011 scholarships is up 17 percent from a year ago, and more than 550 percent from 2005,” the Tampa Bay Times reported in late August. “The statistics arrived just days after an appeals court dismissed the Florida Education Association’s challenge to the program, saying the union lacked standing to bring the lawsuit.”

The 17 percent increase marks the largest annual growth in the program’s 15-year history.

The Florida Education Association (FEA), the state’s largest teachers union, appealed the court’s ruling to the Florida Supreme Court in September. FEA alleges the tax credit scholarship money is being unconstitutionally diverted from public schools.

‘We Are Succeeding’

Patrick Gibbons, public affairs manager at Step Up for Students, the SFO that administers the scholarships, says the rising participation in the school choice program shows it’s working. 

“Our goal at Step Up is to ensure that disadvantaged children have an equal opportunity to a quality education,” Gibbons said. “We are one of many programs in Florida now striving to improve quality options for students, and I think our continued growth, from 15,000 students to more than 90,000 today, means we are succeeding. I think one of the best measures of success is that the program continues to grow even as Florida adds more school choice options, including charter schools, Florida Virtual School, open enrollment, and many other district school programs.”

‘School Choice Works’

Leslie Hiner, vice president of programs at EdChoice, formerly the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, says the tax credit scholarship program shows the value of school choice. 

“The first thing to observe about the Florida program is that school choice works,” Hiner said. “There are [nearly] 100,000 children who are benefitting from that program today. If that school choice program was not working, there would not be 100,000 children applying for scholarships, and it will not continue to grow. But it is continuing to grow exponentially. This is the proof that school choice works.”

Michael McGrady ([email protected]) writes from Colorado Springs, Colorado.