This tax-credit scholarship program was enacted and launched in 2001 to serve students from low-income households. Of America’s school choice programs, the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program is one of the largest in terms of student participation. Learn more about it on this page, including eligibility, funding, regulations, legal history, and more.
Florida offers a tax credit on corporate income taxes and insurance premium taxes for donations to Scholarship Funding Organizations (SFOs), nonprofits that provide private schools scholarships for low-income students and children in foster care.
Scholarships can be worth up to $4,800, though they may not exceed private school tuition and fees. Transportation grants for public schools are worth up to $500. Beginning in the 2016-17 school year, the maximum scholarship amount is projected to be worth about $6,000.
Businesses get a dollar-for-dollar tax credit for SFO contributions, with total credits capped at $357.8 million. Unused credits can be carried forward to the next fiscal year.
Students who qualify for free and reduced-price lunch ($44,863 for a family of four in 2015-16) and who either are enrolled in public school or about to enter kindergarten through fifth grade are eligible. Students in foster care also qualify. If students’ household incomes rise, they can stay in the program under full scholarship as long as their family earns no more than 230 percent of the poverty level. Beginning in the 2016-17 school year, students from households with income levels up to 260 percent of the federal poverty level will be eligible. The annual limit for the amount of funds awarded will be reduced by 12 percent to 50 percent if the student comes from a household with an income between 200 percent and 260 percent of the federal poverty level, and the maximum amount is projected to be worth about $6,000. Eligibility will also be opened to siblings of current scholarship recipients, as long as they live in the same household, and the income limit for previous scholarship recipients will be removed. Additionally, students placed in foster care or out-of home care will be able to apply for a scholarship at any time. SFOs can offer funds for transportation to public schools outside a child’s district.
Fla. Stat. §§ 1002.395 and 1002.421
In July 2014, Citizens for Strong Schools, Inc. and Fund Education Now amended a five-year-old lawsuit alleging the state has failed to adequately fund public education to include new claims concerning the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program and the McKay voucher program for students with special needs. The plaintiffs’ amended complaint contends the school choice programs, among other programs, unconstitutionally “divert” money from Florida’s public schools. Citizens for Strong Schools, et al. v. State Bd. of Educ., et al.
In August 2014, the Florida Education Association (FEA), the Florida School Boards Association (FSBA), and other groups filed a lawsuit challenging the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program. Plaintiffs claim the program aids religious institutions and violates the state’s constitutional mandate to provide Florida children with free public schools. Tom Faasse, et al. v. Rick Scott, as Governor and Head of the Department of Revenue, et al.
In December 2014, a judge dismissed the Florida Education Association’s (FEA) lawsuit challenging Florida’s Tax Credit Scholarship Program and Personal Learning Scholarship Accounts program. The original lawsuit was filed by the FEA to challenge a newly enacted law that includes an education savings account (ESA) for students with special needs—called the Personal Learning Scholarship Account—along with an expansion of the existing Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program. The FEA contends the law violates a state constitutional requirement that each piece of legislation be limited to a single subject. In September 2014, a Florida judge dismissed the original FEA lawsuit after finding that the plaintiff did not have legal standing to sue. The FEA filed an amended complaint and added new plaintiffs to a lawsuit. The amended complaint contends public schools have lost funding because of the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program, and that the law containing the school choice programs violates a state constitutional requirement that each piece of legislation be limited to a single subject. On December 30, 2014, the judge dismissed the lawsuit on the grounds the new plaintiffs did not have standing to sue.