Expanding Equal Opportunity Petition
House Speaker Will Weatherford and Senate Education Appropriations Chairman Bill Galvano (SB 1620 & HB 7099) are promoting bills in each chamber that attempt to end the waiting list for these children and to give students in working-class families a helping hand with partial scholarships. The priority will remain with the lowest-income students and, consistent with the original intent of the program, the partial scholarships are intended to enable an education option for families that might not otherwise be able to afford it.
Florida’s Tax Credit Scholarship has provided learning options to needy schoolchildren for 12 years and is now serving nearly 60,000 students in roughly 1,400 private schools. Their average household income is only 9 percent above poverty, two-thirds are black or Hispanic, more than half live in single-parent households, and those who choose the scholarship are the lowest academic performers from the public schools they leave behind. On standardized tests, these same students are consistently keeping pace academically with students of all income levels nationally.
As your constituent, I ask that you please support the following efforts to strengthen and grow the scholarship to serve more students.
1. Bump up the cap on scholarships for the next four years: Though the scholarship is currently serving roughly 60,000 K-12 students this year, applications were cut off in June 2013 with more than 94,000 students who had started an application. Please increase the cap to allow 120,000 students to participate if they choose.
2. Gradually reduce the gap between scholarship and tuitions: The current scholarship, $4,880, is one of the lowest-cost education options in the state. It is also the same for kindergartners and seniors, even though high school tuitions are 18 percent higher. Please boost the scholarship the amounts and make these options more affordable.
3. Partial scholarships for the working class beginning in 2016: For a dozen years, the scholarship has drawn a harsh line of eligibility. If your household is eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, you can receive a full scholarship worth $4,880 this year. If you earn $1 more, you receive nothing. The better approach is to give financial help commensurate with a family’s financial need. Please support provide partial scholarships for students with household incomes up to 260 percent of poverty.
4. More help for foster children: Students in foster care are automatically eligible for the scholarship, but some children are squeezed out because they miss the application deadlines or because they are in what is known as “out of home care.” Please allow foster students to apply and enroll throughout the year and to qualify if they are in “out of home care.”
5. Remove the requirement that new middle and high school students come from a public school: Students who want to enter the scholarship program in grades 6-12 must have attended a Florida public school the prior year, even if they meet the income guidelines. Though most applicants in these grades meet that requirement, the ones who don’t are often suffering a financial blow at home. Their parents were paying for a private school, lost their jobs, can no longer afford tuition but can’t qualify and must uproot their student. Please eliminate the prior-year public school requirement.
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