Legislation streamlines key scholarship programs for students
with unique abilities and students from lower income families
The Senate Committee on Education, chaired by Senator Joe Gruters (R-Sarasota) today passed Senate Bill 48, Educational Scholarship Programs, by Senator Manny Diaz, Jr. (R-Hialeah). The legislation provides for expanded student eligibility and parental choice for K-12 scholarship programs that serve students with unique abilities and students from lower income families.
“School choice has always existed for families with the financial means. I believe this option should be available to every student and family,” said Senate President Wilton Simpson (R-Trilby). “A low-income family who thinks a private school is the best fit for a child should not have to first send that child to a public school. This comprehensive school choice legislation enables children to start out in the school their parents think is best.”
“Florida is a large and diverse state. Families have a variety of needs and not all children succeed in the same type of educational setting. Whether it is public, private, charter, home school, virtual, or some variation of those options, parents – not government – should determine where and how to educate their child,” said Senator Diaz. “This legislation also modifies the priority funding list to ensure we support Florida’s students who are most in need first. Priority is given to students who are renewing their scholarships or are retained on the waitlist, students in foster care, victims of bullying and harassment, participants’ siblings, and lower income families.”
Scholarship Program Consolidation
The legislation merges the McKay Scholarship Program for Students with Disabilities and the Gardiner Scholarship Program to create the McKay-Gardiner Scholarship Program, and expands the Family Empowerment Scholarship (FES) to incorporate the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program (FTC) and the Hope Scholarship Program.
Under the bill, both of the consolidated McKay-Gardiner and FES programs are funded through the Florida Education Finance Program (FEFP).
The bill increases the scholarship award from 95% to 97.5% of the per-student funding calculation for a student’s grade level, school district, and (if applicable) level of service, with quarterly disbursements. The McKay-Gardiner Scholarship and FES programs are established as Educational Savings Accounts, with additional authorized uses of scholarship funds. A Scholarship Funding Organization may use up to 2.5% of the calculation to cover administrative costs.
McKay-Gardiner: The bill combines the current eligibility requirements for the Gardiner and McKay Scholarship Programs to include each of the following: Students turning three or four years old before September 1 and K-12 students with a diagnosis of a defined disability, an Individual Education Plan, or a 504 Accommodation Plan. Students who turn three years old after September 1 may also be eligible on or after their third birthday if program funds are available.
FES: The legislation retains FES and FTC eligibility relating to the direct certification list, a student in foster care, or a participant’s sibling, and adds eligibility for Hope Scholarship students. The bill modifies the 185%, 260%, and 300% income steps in FES and FTC to one income level of 300% of poverty (with income escalator). The legislation also removes the prior public enrollment requirement and clarifies that a student receiving an award maintains eligibility until high school graduation or age 21 regardless of income.
Enrollment Cap/Priority in Awards:
McKay-Gardiner: The bill establishes a new growth cap formula of 50,000 initial awards plus a 7% annual scholarship growth rate and modifies the Gardiner scholarship priority order to a student who:
- Received a McKay or Gardiner Scholarship in 2020-2021 and renews a McKay-Gardiner Scholarship thereafter.
- Is retained on a waitlist.
- Meets minimum eligibility requirements.
FES: The bill maintains the current annual growth rate of 1% of the public school population, and includes prior year FTC and Hope scholarship recipients in the FES outside of the growth cap. The bill also establishes a new scholarship priority order:
- FTC and Hope recipients and FES renewals.
- Is retained on a waitlist.
- Foster care, sibling, or victim of incident.
- Student household income does not exceed 185% poverty.
- Student household income does not exceed 300% poverty.
To better accommodate virtual education opportunities, the bill allows a private virtual school with at least one administrative office located in the state to meet the physical location requirement for private schools participating in the state school choice scholarship program.