Amendment to streamline scholarship eligibility guidelines headed to Senate Education Committee

Lisa Buie

TALLAHASSEE — The Senate Education Committee is expected to consider a measure today that would make it easier for economically disadvantaged families to access a new K-12 scholarship program approved last year.

Committee chairman Manny Diaz, R-Hialeah, is proposing an amendment to SB 1220, a bill that currently spells out rules for teacher training and qualifications. The amendment would add provisions aimed at aligning application and eligibility guidelines between the new Family Empowerment Scholarship, adopted last year and serving 18,000 students, and the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship, created in 2001 and serving 108,000 students.

Both scholarship programs serve students from lower-income and working-class families. The primary difference is that the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship is funded by corporations that receive a 100 percent tax credit, and the Family Empowerment program is funded directly from the state education budget.

The two programs now use slightly different rules to determine eligibility, such as household income levels. Diaz’ amendment represents an effort to make them more alike, therefore streamlining the process for families who apply. Among the proposed changes:

  • To be eligible for the Tax Credit Scholarship, families currently are limited to incomes of no more than 260 percent of the federal poverty level, which equals $68,120 for a household of four this fall. The proposed change would raise that to 300 percent of poverty, or $78,600 for a household of four, which would match the requirement of the Family Empowerment Scholarship.
  • Allowing Florida Tax Credit students to continue receiving the scholarship until they graduate from high school or turn 21, aligning it with the Family Empowerment Scholarship provision. Now, Florida Tax Credit students must reapply each year.
  • Allowing any Florida Tax Credit student to transfer to the Family Empowerment Scholarship, as long as he or she attended a public school in the year prior to entering the program.
  • Allowing students in the Family Empowerment Scholarship program to take up to two state-supported virtual courses each year without cost. That provision already applies to Florida Tax Credit students.

In addition to the scholarship amendment, the committee also is expected to consider SB1246, which would make it easier for students who attend private schools or are home schooled to participate in dual enrollment programs at participating colleges and universities. The bill is sponsored by Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland.

The Senate Education Committee meets at 2:30 p.m. at 415 Knott Building.

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