Federal stimulus will extend educational enrichment for scholarship families

Lisa Buie

Ayana Standifer’s father, Derrick Standifer, plans to use his federal stimulus check to provide additional educational enrichment for the 6-year-old and her 4-year-old brother, Derrick Jr.

Ayana Standifer is the kind of kid teachers often describe as bright.  

At age 3, when her classmates were learning the alphabet, Ayana could read. When they were counting to 10, she was adding single-digit numbers. Now 6, she spends her evenings – after she’s finished her homework – perfecting her chess strategy.

Ayana also can solve algebra problems, multiply two- and three-digit numbers and outsmart a Rubik’s Cube.

Her father, Derrick Standifer, transferred her from her district school in Tallahassee after one year and enrolled her in Brownsville Preparatory Institute for first grade “because she wasn’t being challenged.” A Florida Tax Credit Scholarship, administered by Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, made it possible for Ayana to attend a school that delivers the advanced instruction she craves.

“They assign students by ability, not by grade,” said Standifer, who is pursuing a doctorate in educational leadership at Florida A&M University. “She is in classes with 10-year-olds.”

Ayana’s 4-year-old brother, Derrick Jr., also performs beyond his age and grade level, which is why Standifer, a single dad, is eagerly awaiting his federal stimulus check. He plans to follow the growing number of parents who are looking for ways to expand their children’s education beyond the traditional classroom.

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data show that upper-income Americans – those in the upper 20% – have been spending money on out-of-school enrichment programs for their children for decades. Such spending climbed steadily between 1972 and 2006, topping out at $8,872 per year. Meanwhile, similar spending among those in the lowest 20% stayed relatively flat, with the highest amount totaling $1,315 per year.

This year, thanks to the American Rescue Plan, parents whose incomes qualify them are getting an unprecedented amount of unrestricted money for children in the form of direct payments of $1,400 per child and a child tax credit that is refundable.

Standifer is among a number of school choice scholarship parents who plan to take advantage of the payments to help give their kids an educational boost, which is especially important for children who need to make up learning losses that happened during the pandemic.

“I want to get them a computer,” he said, adding that the one they use now is outdated. He also wants to invest in some subscription-based science kits for both children and graphic arts materials for Ayana, who shows a talent for it.

Other items on Standifer’s educational wish list include a pet guinea pig to teach responsibility (and more science) and some academic room décor such as a hanging solar system to teach astronomy to his daughter, who has talked about becoming an astronaut when she grows up. She also needs books for accelerated readers because a test she took in kindergarten placed her at a third grade reading level.

Books and an updated laptop computer are also on the shopping list of Karen Thomas of Jacksonville, whose 9-year-old daughter, Alayshia, attends Christ the King Catholic School in Jacksonville on a Florida Tax Credit Scholarship.

“Hers has a virus on it, and it’s not going to be repairable,” said Thomas, who also plans to devote some of her stimulus money toward paying the part of Alaysha’s tuition that the scholarship doesn’t cover. Thomas, who works for a nonprofit that helps homeless people, said the scholarship helped her keep Alayshia at Christ the King during the pandemic when she was out of work for six months.

“I don’t know what we would have done without the scholarship,” she said.

Thomas, who adopted Alayshia through the foster care system, recently learned that her daughter has been losing hearing in both ears, which caused her to fall behind in reading. Thomas wants to make sure Alayshia, now outfitted with hearing aids, gets the extra help she needs to catch up. That help might come in the form of a part-time tutor.

“She had a tutor through the foster care system, but that ended a year ago,” said Thomas, who struggled to cover the cost after she lost her job. She envisions the stimulus as a way to keep the family above water and Alayshia on track educationally.

Joe Peters, who all but lost his livelihood last year when the pandemic decimated his event planning and management business, was able to avoid having to remove his three school-aged kids from their beloved San Jose Catholic School in Jacksonville thanks to the income-based Family Empowerment Scholarship program. But the stimulus money will offer a much-needed boost.

In addition to school supplies, Peters plans to create an inviting workspace for each child to study and do homework. That’s important in a family with four kids, including a 2-year-old, where the two boys and two girls must share bedrooms, he said.

“We want them to have a say in personalizing their space,” he said.

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