Florida’s Empowerment Scholarship Program was enacted and will launch in 2019. The program was created to alleviate the waitlist of the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program while expanding school choice options for thousands of other low- and middle-income residents. It is Florida’s fifth school choice program and second operating voucher program. Learn more about the most up-to-date program details on this page, including eligibility, funding, regulations, legal history, and more.
Florida’s Family Empowerment Scholarship Program allows public school students from low- and middle-income families to receive vouchers to attend private schools of their choice.
Family Empowerment Scholarships are funded at 95 percent of Florida’s unweighted fulltime equivalent amount ($7,122 in 2018–19) or a private school’s tuition and fees, whichever amount is less. Payments are transferred quarterly from the state’s general revenue fund for parents to use at participating private schools.
Students are initially eligible for Family Empowerment Scholarships if they (a) are directly certified to receive food assistance, TANF benefits or qualify for the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations, (b) are from families whose income does not exceed 300 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL) ($77,250 for a family of four in 2019–20, or (c) are in foster care.
Eligible students must also have been enrolled in a traditional Florida public school during the previous school year. Children whose parent(s) are members of the Armed Forces and who are moving to Florida due to military orders do not need to meet the prior public schooling requirement. Enrollment in a charter school or a state-funded virtual school does not satisfy the prior public schooling requirement.
Priority is given to students whose household income does not exceed 185 percent of FPL ($47,638 for a family of four in 2019–20). Once a recipient of a Family Empowerment Scholarship, a student remains eligible until graduating from high school or becoming 21 years old, regardless of the family’s income level. Siblings of participating students are also eligible for the program for the duration of their K–12 education. The program is capped at 18,000 students for the 2019–20 school year. It is allowed to grow by a quarter of a percent of the state’s total public school enrollment in subsequent years (currently about 7,000 students per year.)
As Florida’s fifth educational choice program, the Empowerment Scholarship Program should be evaluated in the context of the state’s other programs. Although the program is capped at only 18,000 students in the first year, it’s important to note that the ESP was created to serve the 14,000 students on the waitlist for a scholarship under the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program, which serves about 100,000 students. Moreover, the ESP includes an “escalator clause” that allows the program to grow over time to meet rising demand.
Commendably, the ESP’s eligibility guidelines make the scholarships available to more than half the students in the Sunshine State, but Florida lawmakers still have a considerable way to go before reaching universal eligibility. Moreover, unlike the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program, the ESP requires students to spend their prior year in public school before participating in the program.
On school requirements, the ESP requires schools to have state approval and administer a nationally norm referenced test to scholarship students, but avoids unnecessary regulations.
Report student’s progress to parents annually
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