Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program

school choice

Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program

Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program

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.

Program Fast Facts

  • 108,570 participating students (Fall 2019)

  • 50 percent of families with children income-eligible statewide

  • 2 scholarship organizations (2019–20)

  • 1,836 participating schools (Fall 2019)

  • Average scholarship value: $6,195 (2019–20 projected)

  • Value as a percentage of public school per-student spending: 68 percent

Program Details

Florida’s Tax Credit Scholarship Program Participation

Students Participating
School Year Ending

Click the + symbols to learn more about this program’s details.

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.

Student Funding

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. This maximum scholarship amount is $9,197 in 2019–20, but most students receive awards averaging between $6,775 to $7,250, depending on grade level. Transportation grants for students attending out-of-district public schools are worth up to $750.

Student Eligibility

Students in households earning up to 260 percent of the federal poverty level ($66,950 for a family of four in 2019–20) are eligible for scholarships. Students who qualify under 200 percent of poverty ($51,500 for a family of four) are eligible for full scholarships worth up to $9,197.  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 ($47,638 for a family of four in 2019–20). Eligibility recently 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, as well as dependents of active-duty military, are now able to apply for a scholarship at any time.

EdChoice Expert Feedback

Florida’s tax-credit scholarship program is the country’s largest private school choice program in terms of participating students. Beginning in the 2016–17 academic year, the legislature loosened the household income requirements to include more middle-income families, and students are no longer required to spend their prior year in public school before participating in the program. The program’s available funding is capped, but fortunately, that cap will increase by 25 percent if 90 percent of the cap is reached. Likewise, the per-student funding cap on scholarships is allowed to grow over time. Additionally, in 2019, Florida adopted the Family Empowerment Scholarship program in order to provide educational opportunity to students on the tax-credit scholarship waitlist. On school requirements, the tax-credit scholarship program requires schools to have state approval and administer a nationally norm-referenced test to scholarship students, but it avoids unnecessary regulations.

Rules and Regulations

  • Income Limit: 260 percent x Poverty
  • Prior Year Public School Requirement: None
  • Geographic Limit: Statewide
  • Enrollment Cap: None
  • Scholarship Cap: $9,197
  • Testing Mandates: National or State
  • Credit Value: 100 percent
  • Total Credit Cap: Yes
  • Budget Cap: $873.6 million (escalator)

 

School Requirements:

  • Be approved by the state
  • Submit to the state annual sworn compliance reports regarding all local and state health and safety codes
  • Comply with federal nondiscrimination requirements of 42 U.S.C. § 2000(d)
  • Teachers and other school personnel working with scholarship students must undergo federal background checks
  • Teachers must have a bachelor’s degree, three years of teaching experience, or special expertise
  • Schools in operation fewer than three years must obtain a surety bond or letter of credit to cover the value of the scholarship payments for one quarter
  • Meet state and local health, safety and welfare laws; codes and rules
  • Any school receiving more than $250,000 in scholarship money must provide independent financial reporting to the state
  • Scholarship students must take a nationally recognized norm-referenced test or the state public school assessment. All schools with at least 30 students in grades 3–10 in two or more consecutive years will have standardized test score gains analyzed by state researchers.
    • Beginning in 2019–20, all new scholarship schools must receive a satisfactory inspection from the Florida Department of Education

Governing Statutes

Fla. Stat. §§ 1002.395 and 1002.421

Legal History

On January 18, 2017, the Florida Supreme Court declined to accept appeal of McCall v. Scott, a case brought by teachers’ unions challenging the state’s tax-credit scholarship program. By refusing to allow rehearing on the case, the Florida Supreme Court effectively ended this litigation. McCall v. Scott, cert. denied 2017 WL 192043, Case No. SC16-1668 (Fla. Jan. 18, 2017)

The Florida Education Association (FEA) and other plaintiffs filed a lawsuit in August of 2014, challenging the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship as a voucher program (in 2006 vouchers ruled unconstitutional by the Florida Supreme Court). In May 2015, the Circuit Court of the Second Judicial Circuit in Leon County dismissed the FEA lawsuit, finding that plaintiffs had no legal standing to sue. Plaintiffs appealed. Prior to the appeal, the Florida Association of School Administrators and Florida School Boards Association withdrew from the case. In August 2016, the First District Court of Appeals affirmed the Circuit Court ruling, holding that plaintiffs suffered no special injury from the tax-credit scholarship program and the state legislature did not exceed its authority under the constitution. McCall v. Scott, 199 So.3d 359 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2016). In September of 2016, plaintiffs filed notice to invoke discretionary jurisdiction of the Florida Supreme Court, asking the court to accept their appeal.

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