Record Number of Florida Students Are Using Private School Choice

Published November 18, 2015

The number of students in Florida’s three K–12 private school choice programs continues to grow.

During the 2014–15 school year, Florida became the first state in the nation to serve more than 100,000 students with special-needs vouchers, tax credit scholarships, or its new education savings account program for special-needs students.

The first reported numbers for the 2015–16 school year, released in October by the Florida Department of Education, show thousands more students are participating.

More than 77,000 low-income students are receiving tax credit scholarships, a roughly 10 percent increase since 2014–15. More than 28,000 special-needs students are using McKay scholarships to attend private schools. Nearly 3,900 students have Personal Learning Scholarship Accounts (PLSAs).

The Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program began in 2001. The law provides state tax credits for corporate and individual contributions to nonprofit scholarship funding organizations (SFOs), and the SFOs then award scholarships to eligible children of low-income families.

Several Programs Available

The McKay Scholarship for Students with Disabilities allows parents of eligible special-needs children to transfer to another public school. The Opportunity Scholarship Program, created in 1999, allows students assigned to failing traditional public schools to choose a higher performing public school. The Personal Learning Scholarships Accounts (PLSA) Program provides eligible students with a scholarship to use for educational services and products. Parents must apply to one of the nonprofit SFOs administering the program in order to receive a PSLA for the student.      

Florida releases quarterly reports on the state’s two largest private school choice programs, and the numbers tend to fluctuate throughout the year.

The October numbers suggest personal learning accounts may not be cannibalizing the McKay scholarship program. The state reports more than 28,000 students are using the special-needs vouchers this fall. That’s less than the number served at the end of the 2014–15 school year, which was roughly 30,000, but more than the program had at this time in 2014—just shy of 26,500.

The total number of participating students tends to increase as the year goes on. Parents can sign up for PLSAs, for example, throughout the school year.

Florida has a fourth private-school choice program, voluntary pre-kindergarten scholarships, which are designed to improve early learning.

Travis Pillow ([email protected]) is editor of redefinED. An earlier version of this article appeared in redefinED. Reprinted with permission.

Image by Gage Skidmore.

Internet Info: 

Travis Pillow, “More Florida students use private school choice in new year,” redefinED, October 14, 2015:

Travis Pillow, “Florida private school choice tops 100,000,” redefinED, July 1, 2015: