Auditor General releases annual review of Florida scholarship programs

Lisa Buie

Launched in 2013, Piney Grove Boys Academy in Fort Lauderdale is one of more than 2,000 private schools that participate in Florida’s array of choice scholarship programs, including the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship.

In its sixth annual audit of Step Up For Students, the state’s largest nonprofit scholarship funding organization, the Florida Auditor General has issued what amounts to a clean bill of health.

The report included only one finding on data procedures, which have been or are currently being addressed by the organization, while more broadly concluding: “Our Reading Scholarship Accounts  audit procedures and tests of selected Step Up records and accounts found that Step Up generally complied with the applicable provisions of State law.”

The audit covered Step Up’s administration of four state-authorized scholarships in 2019-2020: the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship for K-12 students from low-income and working-class households; the Gardiner Scholarship for students with special needs; the Hope Scholarship for students who have been bullied in public schools; and Reading Scholarship Accounts that provide help for elementary public school students who are struggling in reading.

Collectively, the programs awarded scholarships to 143,320 students that year.

The report found that all reimbursements for student expenses in the Gardiner Scholarship program, which operates as an education savings account program, were in full compliance with the law.

“Our tests of Step Up records found that the Gardiner scholarship payments selected for audit were eligible program disbursements,” the report said. The report also found no compliance issues with the other four scholarship programs.

The only finding, auditors noted, related to Social Security numbers and whether Step Up was sufficiently restricting internal computer access to such numbers. It recommended that Step Up evaluate staff members’ access privileges to the database to ensure such access was necessary to perform their job duties and to document periodic evaluations of the necessity for access.

It also recommended that a system be established to remove access for staff members whose jobs no longer required it and grant temporary access to those who needed access only occasionally.

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