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Scholarship demand by the numbers

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Students served in the current school year:


*Students who have begun applications for next year:


*as of April 14, 2019

The plan to help disadvantaged students this year

On May 9, 2019, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law Florida's newest school choice scholarship program, the Family Empowerment Scholarship. The new scholarship will serve K-12 students from low-income and working-class families. The program is intended to help remove the waiting list for the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship, now serving more than 100,000 low-income students, and has been subjected to a flurry of misinformation by critics. Many of their claims are easily refuted by the wealth of academic and regulatory information that exists over the history of the Tax Credit Scholarship.

We at Step Up For Students, a nonprofit approved by the state to help administer both scholarships, have a comprehensive understanding of how these programs work. We offer this page in an attempt to address unfounded claims with hard data that has been generated over the past 17 years in the existing Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program. In these answers, you will find citations to independent financial evaluations, standardized test score results, independent research on college attendance and the like. We invite you to learn the facts, and please don’t hesitate to contact our communications team with any questions you might have.

There is zero evidence scholarships are hurting public schools financially.

Eight different independent fiscal impact studies have concluded the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship (FTC) saves taxpayer money, which can be re-invested in public schools. That’s because the value of the scholarship is far less than what taxpayers spend per student on district schools. In its report released last month, Florida TaxWatch estimated the scholarship in 2017-18 was worth 59 percent of per-pupil spending in district schools. ( Source: Florida TaxWatch.) For more on the fiscal studies, click here. It’s also worth noting that in 2017, the Florida Supreme Court dismissed a lawsuit that aimed to have the scholarship declared unconstitutional because the plaintiffs could provide no evidence to back claims of financial harm to public schools.

Myth Buster #1

There is zero evidence scholarships are hurting public schools academically.

Florida public schools are performing better than ever, even as the state has expanded state-supported private school scholarships and other educational choice options. Florida students now rank No. 1, No. 1, No. 3 and No. 8 on the four core tests for the National Assessment of Education Progress, once adjusted for demographics. (Source: Urban Institute.) Florida students now rank No. 3 in percentage of graduating seniors who’ve passed college-caliber Advanced Placement exams. (Source: College Board.) Florida’s graduation rate now stands at 86.1 percent, up from 52 percent in 1999. (Source: Florida Department of Education, here and here.) Education Week now ranks Florida No. 4 in K-12 Achievement, its highest ranking ever. (Source: Education Week’s Quality Counts report.) Further, a 2010 study by Northwestern University researcher David Figlio found competitive effects of the scholarship led to test score gains in public schools. (Source: National Bureau of Economic Research.)

Myth Buster #2

The evidence shows scholarship students are achieving solid academic outcomes.

For 10 consecutive years, FTC students – who are among the most economically disadvantaged and lowest- performing students in the public schools they leave behind – have achieved the same solid test score gains in reading and math as students of all income levels nationally. For more, click here. More importantly, a report released in February by the Urban Institute found students using the scholarship are up to 43 percent more likely to enroll in four-year colleges than their peers in public schools, and up to 20 percent more likely to earn bachelor’s degrees. Students who use the scholarship four or more years are up to 45 percent more likely to earn bachelor’s degrees. (Source: Urban Institute.)

Myth Buster #3

There is zero evidence private schools are cherry picking higher-performing scholarship students.

If private schools are attempting to cherry pick, they’re failing miserably. A decade’s worth of standardized test results shows students on scholarship are typically the lowest-performing students from the lowest-performing public schools. All of the annual test score analyses can be found here.

Myth Buster #4

There is zero evidence private schools are sending scholarship students back to public schools in worse shape academically.

Critics continue to repeat the charge that private schools are to blame for low performance of scholarship students who return to public schools, even though education researchers have dismissed it. In his 2013 report on the performance of scholarship students, Northwestern University Professor David Figlio wrote this: “FTC participants who return to the public sector performed, after their first year back in the public schools, in the same ballpark but perhaps slightly better on the FCAT than they had before they left the Florida public schools. The most careful reading of this evidence indicates that participation in the FTC program appears to have neither advantaged nor disadvantaged the program participants who ultimately return to the public sector. Rather, the evidence strongly points to an explanation that the poor apparent FCAT performance of FTC program returnees is actually a result of the fact that the returning students are generally particularly struggling students.”

Myth Buster #5

There is zero evidence scholarship parents are returning their children to public schools because they’re dissatisfied.

Scholarship students leave the program for any number of reasons, but surveys suggest few do so because their parents are dissatisfied. A 2009 survey by the Friedman Foundation (now EdChoice) found 80 percent of scholarship parents were “very satisfied” with the academic progress their children were making in their current private schools, compared to 4 percent in their previous public schools. A more recent survey found similarly high rates of parental satisfaction.

Critics have been lately raising this “issue,” citing information from the recent Urban Institute report. It noted 58 percent of scholarship students used the scholarship two years or less during the period studied, 2003 to 2011. This was during the early years of the program, when the scholarship value was far less than it is today, and there were far fewer private schools participating. Thankfully, the scholarship amount has increased in recent years, and been tiered to reflect higher tuition in middle and high schools, which should ensure more parents can continue to use it. More recent data shows the percentage of students using the scholarship two or fewer years has dropped to 30 percent.

Myth Buster #6

There is zero evidence scholarships are contributing to a re-segregation of public schools.

No study to date has linked the tax credit scholarship to patterns of re-segregation in Florida’s public schools. A 2017 report by the Le Roy Collins Institute at Florida State noted “school segregation in Florida today is strongly related to residential patterns of urbanization and suburbanization in the state ... ” In other states where vouchers and racial segregation have been studied the results are mixed. In Louisiana, for example, 82 percent of public schools and 45 percent of private schools became more racially integrated as a result of the state’s voucher program. Generally, voucher programs that focus on low-income students or students in struggling public schools tend to reduce racial segregation as the vast majority of program beneficiaries are racial minorities.

Myth Buster #7

Evidence shows scholarship students come from all types of public schools, including A-rated schools.

According to the latest report from the Learning Systems Institute, 30.3 percent of scholarship students came from “A” or “B” rated public schools, significantly more than the 22.9 percent that come from “D” or “F” rated public schools. School grades can be useful measures for a school’s overall performance, but they don’t speak to whether an individual student is finding success or not. Some students in A schools struggle, just as some students in F schools excel. The point of the scholarship is to give more parents more options so they can find a school that is the right fit for their child.

Myth Buster #8

Private schools that accept scholarships are held accountable by regulations and parental choice.

Today there are nearly 12,000 words of regulations governing the program. Schools must provide parents information about teacher qualifications; test students in grades 3-10 in reading and math on state-approved national norm referenced tests; and conduct annual financial reports if the school receives more than $250,000 from any scholarship source. Schools are also subjected to health, safety, fire and building occupancy inspections. Inspectors are required to send final reports to the Florida Department of Education (DOE) Starting in 2019-20, new participating schools must be inspected by the DOE before accepting any scholarship students. Read more here. Private schools are also subject to the accountability that comes when dissatisfied parents can leave them at any time, an exacting accountability that many district schools do not face.

Myth Buster #9

The proposed new voucher programs are not unprecedented.

Among other programs, Florida provides state funding for private school tuition. Among other programs, Florida provide vouchers for students to attend private and religious colleges (Bright Futures Scholarships) and pre- schools (Voluntary Prekindergarten). Since 2000, the McKay Scholarship for students with disabilities has paid private school tuition directly from the Florida Education Finance Program, just as the proposed new vouchers would do. When the Florida Supreme Court ruled the $2.9 million Opportunity Scholarship unconstitutional in 2006, it refused to strike down the McKay Scholarship, which cost the state $119 million the following year. The McKay Scholarship has never been challenged. The state has required districts to pay private school tuition for students with special needs since the 1970s. The state has funded the Gardiner Scholarship, an education savings account for students with special needs, since 2014. Read more here.

Myth Buster #10

Demand for the FTC scholarship program continues to grow.

So far this school year, more than 144,000 students have started applications for this fall, and more than 90,000 have been verified as being eligible for scholarships. That last figure is 20,000 ahead of last year’s pace, with more than four months left before school starts. Some critics have suggested a drop in the number of scholarship students this year – the first drop in 14 years – is a sign of declining demand. But the program has a wait list of nearly 13,000 students, which is why lawmakers are proposing new scholarships. The wait list is due to several factors, including increased scholarship values, a higher rate of students using higher-valued scholarships in middle and high schools, and fundraising that continues to grow, but at a slower rate than in previous years. For more details on the wait list and the slow down in fundraising, go here.

Myth Buster #11

FLORIDA'S Graduation Rate Rising Rapidly Over The Last  20 years

Study: School choice scholarship students more likely to earn bachelor’s degrees

The largest private school choice program in America got more solid evidence of its effectiveness Monday.

FTC scholarship use has been strongly rising for years

Step Up For Students is not sitting on hundreds of millions dollars of cash.

This myth has been around for years and stems from a misunderstanding of how IRS 990’s report information. Most recently, the Florida Education Association (FEA) claimed that over a two-year period, Step Up’s “revenue exceeded their expenses by more than $150 million,” and that by the end of 2016 Step Up held “more than a half a billion dollars of net assets.” The “revenue” the FEA refers to in an older 990 (the most recent one is here; the eight most recent are on the Step Up site here) is actually pledges received, not actual cash donations. Donors often pledge to donate in one year but don’t actually make the cash donation until the following year. In other words, Step Up merely received $150 million more in pledges than it spent in actual cash expenses over that two-year period. The same is true for the claim that Step Up held about a half-billion dollars in net assets. That basically means Step Up received a half billion dollars in pledges, most of which won’t become cash donations until the following school year.

Myth Buster #12

Scholarship supporters in Florida do not own a time machine.

One of the oldest and most persistent myths is the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship was created to skirt a Florida Supreme Court decision ruling taxpayer-funded vouchers unconstitutional. In Bush v. Holmes, the court determined the state had a “paramount duty” to fund a “high quality system of free public schools.” The court reasoned this “paramount duty” meant the Legislature could not use tax dollars to fund a competing, parallel, private school system through vouchers. Not to be outdone, the myth goes, the Legislature created a new voucher to circumvent the constitution by funding the program through tax credits instead of tax dollars. There’s just one major problem: the FTC program was created in 2001, nearly five years before the Holmes decision in 2006. In fact, when the FTC program passed into law, tax-funded vouchers were still constitutional.

Just prior to creation of the FTC scholarship, the Supreme Court voted 4-1 to decline hearing the case and allowed the Court of Appeal decision to stand. The Court of Appeal rejected the notion that the state’s “paramount duty” to fund public schools also meant it could not fund vouchers through tax dollars. Unless voucher proponents had access to a time machine, there was simply no way for them to know about a ruling five years in the future, especially after the Supreme Court had rejected the very same arguments. We deny owning or possessing any such time travel device.

Myth Buster #13