Schools and families that participate in the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program now have a faster, easier and more secure way to process tuition payments.
A new automated system developed by Step Up For Students, Florida’s largest scholarship funding organization, allows parents to approve tuition payments for their children’s schools electronically. The Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program, the largest of six scholarship programs in the state, serves about 100,000 economically disadvantaged students and allows companies to receive state tax credits in exchange for scholarship donations.
Families received emails this week explaining the new process and requesting payment approvals for the final payment of the 2019-20 school year. Those who haven’t responded will receive follow-up emails and texts today.
Here’s how it works: Based on each school’s verification of scholarship students’ attendance, Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, will email each parent or guardian a link that includes the amount of their tuition check. The parent or guardian will be asked to click on the link and approve or deny the amount electronically. Once approved, an ACH payment will be sent on the already existing Florida Tax Credit Scholarship schedule.
At that time, an advisory email will be sent to the school that the money is being deposited into its bank account. Parents who deny payments will be required to give a reason. A Step Up For Students representative will contact them to follow up. Step Up officials are urging parents to contact the organization before denying a payment to allow the opportunity to address any issues.
Under the former system, Step Up mailed paper checks via traditional mail to the schools. Parents then had to visit the school and sign over their checks, which the school accounting staff deposited into the school’s bank account.
The law establishing the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program in 2001 required that paper checks be signed in person. In 2017, the law was changed to allow alternative methods of fund transfers.
Step Up already had been working toward an electronic system, but social distancing ordered to mitigate the COVID-19 pandemic prompted staff to fast-track the project, said chief financial officer Joe Pfountz.
“It really helps from a cost and documentation perspective,” Pfountz said. “The electronic process allows us to be even better stewards of the generous gifts donors have entrusted to us to help every student receive a high-quality education by attending the school that best fits their needs.”
The new system will allow non-contact processing, which means parents and school staff can maintain social distancing, keeping them safer during the pandemic. Beyond that, it also will allow business to continue during emergencies such as hurricanes.
Currently, the new system is being used only for the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program, but Step Up expects to expand it to serve families receiving the other scholarship programs it administers.
“Most schools are closed right now, so they won’t have to open for parents to sign checks,” said Scott Smith, director of program accounting for Step Up For Students.
Smith said the old system left the program vulnerable to errors and fraud due to checks being lost in the mail or stolen by third parties. The new system will prevent that and speed up processing time to as little as two business days once a parent approves the payment.
“Some of our schools are very small and depend on scholarship payments to meet their payroll and pay their bills,” Smith said. “They don’t have a large safety net.”
Parents and school staff must do their part for the new system to work. Parents should open the emails and click on the links and approve the payments as soon as they receive them so that scholarship payments are not delayed. Those who fail to approve payments risk forfeiting their child’s scholarship.
Meanwhile, schools should make sure they update their banking information with Step Up For Students now and whenever they switch banks or accounts so that payments can be deposited promptly, Pfountz said.