The Good News provides a monthly column with important content having to do with topics from the legal community. This month features a conversation with Ed Pozzuoli, CEO of Tripp Scott, and Thomas Sternberg, an associate with Tripp Scott.
For years, Florida has led in school choice, providing competition to district-run schools and giving parents more control over the quality and content of their children’s education. Now, Governor DeSantis has signed HB1, expanding choice for every K-12 child beginning July 1.
Here’s some of the good news for families about expanded school choice and how to participate:
Bill Davell: What school-choice programs are involved and how were they expanded?
Ed Pozzuoli and Thomas Sternberg: HB1 makes expands eligibility for, and the flexibility of, programs that previously provided scholarships for tuition and fees – often described as “vouchers” – for a limited number of children to attend approved private schools:
- Two state-funded programs: the Family Empowerment Scholarship/Educational Options (FES EO), and the Family Empowerment Scholarship for Students with Unique Abilities (FES-UA) for students with special needs
- The Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program, which provided similar private-school tuitions and fees financed by private donations to the two non-profits that administer the programs.
HB1 expands these programs by:
- eliminating previous income limits and caps – thereby opening the FES EO and the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship programs to all K-12-eligible children who are state residents
- increasing the number of students served under the FES-UA from 1 to 3% of Florida’s exceptional education students, annually
- converting scholarships previously paid directly to schools into Empowerment Savings Accounts. Families will receive amounts equivalent to per-student spending in their school district to choose among a variety of options to customize their child’s education.
Families not choosing the private-school option under FES EO can also receive a $750 transportation scholarship for an alternative public school.
BD: How much will the Empowerment Savings Accounts be?
EP & TS: Scholarship amounts are based on grade level and per-student funding in a child’s public-school district and are expected to average around $8700 in 2023-24.
BD: How can the accounts be used?
EP & TS: Participating families in private schools must agree to devote funds first to cover tuition and fees, which will continue to be paid directly to schools.
Any funds then remaining can be used for expenditures such as:
- Instructional materials
- Private tutoring, postsecondary dual enrollment, and online and Florida Virtual School courses
- Certain standardized test fees
- Fees for choice navigators (see below)
In particular, accounts can be used for part-time enrollment in services provided by a public school district, depending on availability.
BD: What about home-schooled students?
EP & TS: Home-schooled students will not be eligible for FES/EO accounts. However, the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program will offer personalized education programs (PEP) for up to 20,000 homeschooled students in 2023-24. That number will be expanded by up to 40,000 students in subsequent years until the cap is lifted fully in 2027.
PEP participants will have to meet state guidelines regarding testing and providing a learning plan, which may not be right for all families.
BD: Who runs these programs? How does our family apply?
EP & TS: The programs are administered by two statewide non-profit Scholarship Funding Organizations (SFOs), the AAA Scholarship Foundation and Step Up for Students.
After selecting a private school or other options, families submit a universal application to an SFO, which approves eligibility, first exhausting the available Tax Credit Scholarship funding and then moving to FES EO.
Private schools attended by FES EO recipients must be approved by the state Department of Education based on financial reporting, testing, health and safety and other requirements.The SFO will make tuition/fees payments to schools four times a year upon electronic verification by parents. Leftover or unneeded funds can be accrued up to a limit of $24,000 and used for the other permitted educational expenses.
The application process has not yet begun, so Step Up is asking parents to register for notifications at https://go.stepupforstudents.org/2023-24-il (FES EO ) or https://go.stepupforstudents.org/ua-interest-2023-2024 (FES UA). The applications link for the AAA Scholarship Foundation is https://www.aaascholarships.org/parents/florida/.
BD: What if tuition, fees and other costs exceed the scholarship?
EP & TS: Families will be responsible for costs above funded amounts, but parents should consult with the private school they are considering about scholarships that help close that gap.
BD: Will there be a waiting list?
EP & TS: The legislature has not yet set final funding for the programs, so HB1 specifically prioritizes students from families on two income tiers – the first at or below 185% of the federal poverty level ($51,338 for a family of four in 2022–23) and a second up to 400% — as well as children in foster care or out-of-home care.
Individual legislators are recognizing that demand will be high and proposing to increase the original funding envisioned.
BD: There are so many choices now. Can I get help to choose the right school or customized learning options for my child?
EP & TS: The legislature recognized the challenges of optimizing the learning experience for your child’s needs and abilities and your family’s resources. So HB1 provides for an online parents portal and qualified “choice navigators” – a paid service – to help guide parents.
These have not yet been established, but meanwhile, resources and support for parents are available via the following sites:
- State websites:
- SFO websites:
In addition, private schools are certain to have specialists helping parents navigate the new rules and opportunities.
If you have any topics you think my be of interest to our readers, we encourage you to email us at [email protected].
Read more Ask Bill at: https://www.goodnewsfl.org/author/william-c-davell/