District-by-district growth in Florida’s tax credit scholarship program

The latest official report on the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship places enrollment this fall at 48,938 students – a level that ranks the program among the nation’s top 100 largest school districts.

The scholarship is not a district, of course; it serves students in 1,298 different private schools across the state. The students are not economically diverse, either; the scholarship is only for those who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch and the average income last year was only 12 percent above poverty.

So these enrollment numbers speak only to parental interest, and the trend is strong. Enrollment has quadrupled in eight years, doubled in the past four. For the third consecutive year, the nonprofit that oversees the scholarship, Step Up For Students, was forced to close applications and place parents on a waiting list. Even with an increase of roughly 10,000 students this year, the organization has more than 11,000 who have signed up to be notified of more scholarships. In a year in which traditional public school enrollment is forecast to increase by only 1.2 percent, the scholarship program likely will grow by 25 percent.

Not surprisingly, some of the largest growth is coming in urban districts, with Miami-Dade adding nearly 2,500 more students and Orlando/Orange County adding close to 1,000. For the number crunchers, here is a spreadsheet of enrollment by district for the past eight years.

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BY Jon East

Jon East is special projects director for Step Up For Students. Previously, he was a member of the editorial board and the Sunday commentary editor at the St. Petersburg Times, Florida’s largest daily newspaper, where he wrote about education issues for most of his 28 years at the paper. He was also a reporter and editor at the Evening Independent and Ocala Star-Banner. He earned a journalism degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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