Step Up For StudentsStep Up for Students is a 501(c)3 nonprofit in Florida providing low income students and students with special needs with scholarships to help pay tuition for private school, assistance to attend an out of district public school, or for tutoring, textbooks or therapies. Step Up raised $534 million in 2017, making it the 26th largest nonprofit corporation in the U.S. according to Forbes. Step Up awarded scholarships to more than 117,000 students in 2017-18.
Scholarship ProgramsStep Up For Students is one of two nonprofits administering school choice scholarship programs in Florida. Step Up managed two programs in 2017-18, awarding approximately 99 percent of the scholarships in the state, and will manage four scholarship programs starting in 2018-19. As a "Scholarship Funding Organization" in Florida, Step Up must undergo audits and must be approved by the State Board of Education annually.
The Florida Tax Credit Scholarship
The Florida Tax Credit Scholarship (FTC) program was initiated by former Florida governor Jeb Bush in 2001 and began offering scholarships in 2002. The program is intended to offer low-income students scholarships to attend private schools through school choice. The program is funded through private corporate donations. Donors receive a 100% tax credit for the contribution. Step Up is allowed to keep 3 percent administrative allowance and must give away at least 80 percent of the scholarship donations each year.
In the 2017-18 school year the scholarships amounted to as much as $7,004 for private school tuition or $750 for transportation costs to attend a public school in an outside district. Step Up awarded scholarships to 106,650 students that year
On August 28th, 2014, the Florida Education Association, Florida School Boards Association, Florida Congress of Parents and Teachers, Florida Association of School Administrators, League of Women Voters of Florida, Florida State Conference of Branches of NAACP and the Americans United for Separation of Church and State sued the state of Florida, challenging that the scholarship program violated two provisions of the state constitution. The lawsuit was dismissed twice for lack of standing since the scholarship program was funded by private donations. In January 2017, Martin Luther King III joined more than 10,000 parents, students and teachers in a march on the state capital to ask the state teacher's union to drop the lawsuit.. On January 18, 2017, the Supreme Court Justices of Florida voted 4-1 to decline jurisdiction over the lawsuit and the case was dismissed.
The Gardiner Scholarship
The Gardiner Scholarship program is an "education savings account" program for children with special needs. The program was passed in 2014 with a budget of $18 million. Today it serves more than 10,000 students with a budget of over $100 million. The scholarship program allows children with certain disabilities to have access to special accounts that can be used to pay for private school tuition, fees, textbooks, curriculum, tutoring, therapies, educational technologies and more. Unspent money rolls over from year to year and can be saved for college. The money returns to the state if the student returns to public school full-time, moves out of the state, or has been a non full-time student for three years.
In the summer of 2014, the Florida Education Association sued the state over how the scholarship program passed into law. The lawsuit was dismissed by a trial court judge and the union did not appeal.