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.
98,457 participating students (Spring 2017)
38 percent of families with children income-eligible statewide
2 scholarship organizations (2016–17)
1,722 participating schools (Spring 2017)
Average scholarship value: $5,458 (Projected 2016–17)
Value as a percentage of public school per-student spending: 61 percent
Florida provides a tax credit on corporate income taxes and insurance premium taxes for donations to scholarship-funding organizations (SFOs), nonprofits that provide scholarships for low-income students and children in foster care and offer funds for transportation to public schools outside a child’s district. Businesses get a dollar-for-dollar tax credit for SFO contributions, with total credits capped at $559.1 million. Unused credits can be carried forward to the next fiscal year.
Scholarships can be worth up to 96 percent of the state’s unweighted Fulltime Equivalency (FTE) funding, though they may not exceed private school tuition and fees. Transportation grants for public schools are worth up to $500.
Students in households earning less than 260 percent of poverty ($63,960 for a family of four in 2017–18) are eligible for scholarships. Students who qualify under 200 percent of poverty ($49,200 for a family of four) are eligible for full scholarships worth $7,815 to $8,525, depending on grade level. Partial scholarships are available with scholarship values 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. First priority is given to renewal students and to new students eligible for the federal free and reduced-price lunch program ($45,510 for a family of four in 2017–18). 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.
The Florida legislature expanded student eligibility in 2014 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 new eligibility rules took effect at the beginning of the 2016–17 school year. The program’s available funding is capped; fortunately, that cap increases 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
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. 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, 2016, 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, the Florida Education Association (FEA) and several other plaintiffs filed a lawsuit 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. In August, 2016, the First District Court of Appeals affirmed the ruling of the Circuit Court. In September, the plaintiffs filed notice to invoke discretionary jurisdiction of the Florida Supreme Court, asking the high court to accept their appeal. The focus of each appeal has been to determine whether Plaintiffs have standing to bring legal action. On January 18, 2017, the Florida Supreme Court declined to accept jurisdiction and denied the FEA’s petition for review. The lower court ruling stands; the FEA has no standing to sue. Joanne McCall, et al., v. Rick Scott, as Governor and Head of the Department of Revenue, et al.
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