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.
78,353 participating students (2015–16)
35 percent of families with children income-eligible statewide
2 scholarship organizations (2015–16)
1,594 participating schools (2015–16)
Average scholarship value: $5,367 (2015–16 projected)
Value as a percentage of public school per-student spending: 64 percent
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 $5,677, 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.
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.
Last year, the Florida legislature expanded student eligibility for its tax-credit scholarship program, the country’s largest private school choice program in terms of enrollees. Notable eligibility changes include a marginal raise in the household income requirements and an elimination of the requirement for students to spend his or her prior year in public school before participating in the program. The program’s available funding is capped at $447.3 million; fortunately, that cap is allowed to increase by 25 percent if 90 percent of the cap is reached. Similarly, with funding power, the per-student funding cap on scholarships is allowed to grow, another plus. On school requirements, the program requires schools to have state approval and administer a nationally norm-referenced test to scholarship students.
Fla. Stat. §§ 1002.395 and 1002.421
There are currently two lawsuits pending in Florida that impact the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program:
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 Scholarship Program, a voucher for students with special needs. The plaintiffs’ amended complaint contends that school choice programs, among other programs, unconstitutionally “divert” money from Florida’s public schools. Trial is expected in early 2016. Citizens for Strong Schools, et al. v. State Bd. Of Educ., et al.
In August 2014, a lawsuit was filed by the Florida Education Association (FEA) and several other plaintiffs to challenge the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program as vouchers, which had previously been ruled unconstitutional under the Florida state constitution (Bush v. Holmes, 2006). In May 2015, the Circuit Court of the Second Judicial Circuit in Leon County, Florida, dismissed the original FEA lawsuit after finding that plaintiffs did not have legal standing to sue. Plaintiffs appealed this ruling. Prior to the appeal, the Florida Association of School Administrators and the Florida School Boards Association withdrew from the case. Requests for oral argument are pending. The focus of the appeal is to determine whether Plaintiffs have standing to bring legal action. Joanne McCall, et al., v. Rick Scott, as Governor and Head of the Department of Revenue, et al.