OPPAGA text logo with graphic of FL historic capitol
OPPAGA text logo with graphic of FL historic capitol

Education System

Choice Scholarship Programs

What is the purpose of the programs?

Florida provides a variety of school choice options, including seven scholarship programs. These programs allow parents choice among public and private schools.

What programs are available?

What is a Family Empowerment Scholarship?

The Family Empowerment Scholarship Program allows eligible students to attend the private school of their choice.  In order to be eligible, the student's household income level must not exceed 300% of the federal poverty level, or the student must qualify for the food assistance program, the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program, or the Food Distribution on Indian Reservations program.  In addition, students currently placed in foster care or out-of-home care or who were placed during the previous state fiscal year also qualify.  Any student applying for a Family Empowerment Scholarship must also be eligible to enroll in kindergarten or have spent the prior year in a Florida public school.

What is a Florida Tax Credit Scholarship?

The Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program allows tax credits for contributions to nonprofit scholarship funding organizations with the intent of encouraging private, voluntary contributions to nonprofit scholarship-funding organizations. Florida tax credit scholarships are funded by these contributions and are intended to expand educational opportunities for children of families with limited financial resources and enable Florida children to achieve a greater level of education excellence.

What is a McKay Scholarship?

The McKay Scholarship Program allows eligible students with disabilities to attend a public or private school of their choice. Parents of eligible Florida public school students have the option to select the best academic environment for their children, by choosing another public school or applying for a scholarship to attend an eligible private school. In order to be eligible for the McKay Scholarship Program, a student must have attended a Florida public school for the prior year and must have an Individual Education Plan (IEP) or a 504 accommodation plan. However, the dependent children of a member of the United States Armed Forces who transfer to Florida from out of state pursuant to a parent's change of station orders or a foster child are eligible for the McKay Scholarship if they meet all other eligibility requirements.

What is an Opportunity Scholarship?

Opportunity Scholarships give parents of students in a failing public school the opportunity to send their children to another public school that is higher performing.  Opportunity Scholarships are available for public school students enrolled in or assigned to a public school that has received an F or three consecutive D grades.

What is a Gardiner Scholarship?

The Gardiner Scholarship provides eligible students a scholarship that can be used to purchase approved services or products in order to design a customized educational program for the student. Authorized purchases with the funding include instructional materials; curriculum; specialized services; tuition and fees for enrollment in home education, private schools, postsecondary institutions, programs offered by postsecondary institutions, private tutoring programs, or virtual programs; fees for examinations or assessment; contributions to Florida Prepaid College or the Florida College Savings Program; contracted services; tuition and fees for tutoring; fees for specialized summer or after-school education programs; transition services; fees for evaluation of educational progress; tuition and fees for voluntary pre-kindergarten (VPK) or school readiness providers; and fees for equine, art, or music therapy services.  
Eligible students include students who will be 3 or 4 years old or are eligible to enroll in kindergarten through grade 12 in a Florida public school, and is the subject of an IEP or has received a diagnosis of or has a disability.
Eligible disabilities are autism spectrum disorder, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, an intellectual disability, Prader-Willi syndrome, spina bifida, being a high-risk child, muscular dystrophy, Williams syndrome, rare diseases that affect patient populations of fewer than 200,000 individuals, anaphylaxis, deafness, visual impairment, dual sensory impairment as defined by rules of the State Board of Education and evidenced by reports, traumatic brain injured, or hospital or homebound as defined by rules of the State Board of Education and evidenced by reports.  

What is a Hope Scholarship?

The Hope Scholarship allows a student enrolled in a Florida public school in kindergarten through grade 12 who has been subjected to an incident of bullying, violence, or harassment the opportunity to transfer to another public school with capacity or enroll in an approved private school.

What is a Reading Scholarship Account?

Reading Scholarship Accounts are available for Florida public school students in grades 3 through 5 who scored below a Level 3 on the statewide, standardized English Language Arts assessment in the prior school year. The amount of the scholarship is currently $500 per eligible student and may be spent on instructional materials, curriculum, tuition and fees for part-time tutoring services, and fees for after-school or specialized summer education programs designed to improve reading or literacy skills.

How are these activities funded?

Family Empowerment ScholarshipsThe Family Empowerment Scholarship is established for up to 18,000 students to use for tuition and fees at an eligible private school.  In the 2020-21 school year, the number of students eligible for the scholarship may increase by 0.25% of Florida's total public school student enrollment.  The calculated amount for the scholarship is based on the grade level and school district in which the student was assigned as 95% of the funds per unweighted full-time equivalent in the Florida Education Finance Program for a student in the basic program, plus specified calculations outlined in s. 1002.394, Florida Statutes.
Florida Tax Credit Scholarships.  Corporations participating in the scholarship program make contributions to scholarship funding organizations and receive tax credits up to a maximum set by the Legislature.  The tax credit cap for Fiscal Year 2019-20 is $873.6 million. The Florida Department of Revenue approves the tax credits on a first-come, first-served basis. The amount of tax credit a corporation can claim depends on the type of tax. The Florida Department of Revenue provides additional information on applying for the tax credit allocation.
McKay Scholarships. The funding allocated for the student accompanies the student to the chosen school. Therefore, no additional state funds are required for this program.  The scholarship is equal to the amount the student would have received under the Florida Education Finance Program (FEFP) in the public school to which the student was assigned or the cost of the private school's tuition and fees.
Opportunity Scholarships.  Opportunity Scholarships are revenue neutral with respect to funding available for public school students.  Spending per student in the public schools remains the same regardless of the number of students who use an Opportunity Scholarship. If parents choose to transport their child to a higher-performing public school in another district that has available space, s. 1002.38(3)(b), Florida Statutes, provides that the other district shall accept and report the student for purposes of the district's funding pursuant to the Florida Education Finance Program.
Gardiner Scholarships.  Funds for the Gardiner Scholarship are appropriated each year by the Legislature. For Fiscal Year 2020-21, the Legislature appropriated $189.9 million for the program. The maximum scholarship a student can receive is equal to the base student allocation under the Florida Education Finance Program (FEFP), plus specified calculations outlined in s. 1002.385, Florida Statues.
Hope Scholarships. A person purchasing a motor vehicle may be granted a credit of 100% of a contribution made to an eligible nonprofit scholarship funding organization against any tax imposed by the state under s. 212.1832, Florida Statutes, and collected by a dealer, designated agent, or private tag agent during the purchase of the motor vehicle. The nonprofit scholarship funding organizations receive these contributions for scholarships and award scholarships to eligible students on a first-come, first-served basis.
Reading Scholarship Accounts.  Funds for Reading Scholarship Accounts are appropriated each year by the Legislature. For Fiscal Year 2020-21, the Legislature appropriated $7.6 million for the program. The maximum scholarship an eligible student can receive is currently $500.

Updates

Chapter 2020-95, Laws of Florida, affected several of Florida's choice scholarship programs.
 
Family Empowerment Scholarship Program.  The law made several changes to the Family Empowerment Scholarship Program.  Among these changes, it establishes a priority order for awarding the scholarship, rather than awarding it on a first-come, first-served basis.  The priority order is

  • a student who received a Family Empowerment Scholarship during the previous school year;
  • a student who received a Florida Tax Credit Scholarship in the previous school year but did not receive a renewal scholarship because of a lack of funds and meets other Family Empowerment Scholarship eligibility requirements;
  • a student whose household income does not exceed 185% of the federal poverty level or is placed in foster or in-home care and, in priority order, spent the prior year in attendance at a Florida public school or is eligible to enroll in kindergarten; or
  • a student whose household income does not exceed 300% of the federal poverty level or an adjusted maximum and, in priority order, spent the prior year in attendance at a Florida public school or is eligible to enroll in kindergarten. 

For eligibility purposes, the bill allows the maximum household income level, which is currently 300% of the federal poverty level, to increase by 25% in any year following a fiscal year in which more than 5% of Family Empowerment Scholarships are not awarded. It also changes the annual growth rate of the scholarship from 0.25% to 1.0% of the total public school student enrollment.

Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program.  The law made modifications to the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program, including

  • specifying that a student who receives a Florida Tax Credit Scholarship remains eligible until high school graduation or age 21, regardless of household income level;
  • requiring each scholarship funding organization (SFO) to use all available funds under the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program and the Hope Scholarship Program for renewal Florida Tax Credit scholarships prior to awarding initial scholarships; and
  • requiring each SFO to refer any student who does not receive a renewal Florida Tax Credit Scholarship due to a lack of available funds to an SFO that may have funds available.  

Hope Scholarship Program.  The law requires any SFO that uses excess contributions to the Hope Scholarship Program to fund Florida Tax Credit scholarships to prioritize renewal scholarships prior to awarding any initial scholarships.   

Where can I find related OPPAGA reports?

A complete list of related OPPAGA reports is available on our website.

Where can I get more information?

Other Reports
Step Up for Students, Inc. - Operational Audit, Auditor General Report No. 2019-012, August 2018.

Websites of Interest
Florida Department of Education, Florida School Choice
U.S. Department of Education, School Choice
State Support for School Choice and Other Options, National Center for Education Statistics

Performance Information


Performance measures and standards for the department may be found in its Long Range Program Plan.

What are the applicable statutes?

Sections 1002.38, 1002.385, 1002.39, 1002.394, 1002.395, 1002.40, and 1002.411, Florida Statutes.

Whom do I contact for help?

Office of Independent Education and Parental Choice, 1-800-447-1636, email:  Contact IEPC

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