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 $5,866, though they may not exceed private school tuition and fees. Transportation grants for public schools are worth up to $500.
Students who qualify for free and reduced-price lunch ($44,955 for a family of four in 2016–17) are eligible. Contingent on available funds, a student may be eligible as long as their family earns no more than 260 percent of the poverty level ($63,180 for a family of four in 2016–17). (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 $5,886. See Student Funding for more program funding information.) Eligibility also opened to siblings of current scholarship recipients, as long as they live in the same household, and the income limit for previous scholarship recipients was removed. Additionally, students placed in foster care or out-of-home care are now 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. The Circuit Court of the Second Judicial Circuit In and For Leon County State of Florida ruled against plaintiffs, upholding the constitutionality of Florida’s school choice programs, on May 24, 2016. On June 28, plaintiffs appealed the ruling to the District Court of Appeal State of Florida First District, requesting the case be accepted for direct appeal to Florida’s Supreme Court. Decision pending. 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.