Florida scholarship program has only enriched its students

Editor’s Note: Alabama’s new tax credit scholarship for low-income students has created a stir among opponents, including the state teacher union, and one of the latest attacks was aimed at Florida and its scholarship program. Doug Tuthill, redefinED blog host and president of the nonprofit that administers the Florida scholarship, responded in an oped published today in the Birmingham NewsHuntsville Times and the Mobile Press-Register.

By Doug Tuthill

As Alabama introduces a scholarship program that empowers low-income parents to choose a school that best fits their children’s needs, the apprehension of traditionalists in public education is understandable. But allow me to rebut a false accusation launched at your neighbor to the south: no one who administers Florida’s scholarship for underprivileged children is profiting from it.

I should know. I am the president of the only remaining nonprofit organization still administrating tax credit scholarships in Florida. We originally had eight nonprofits doing this work, but Florida’s scholarship funding organizations get no reimbursement until they operate for three years with clean audits, and then they can only keep up to 3 cents on each tax-credited scholarship dollar they collect. Little wonder that only one has been able to raise sufficient funds to survive.

Our nonprofit, called Step Up For Students, has raised dollars privately to help keep its doors open for 12 years. So I laughed when I read that at least one newsletter columnist and some public educators in Alabama think our nonprofit has enriched John Kirtley, the Tampa businessman who has personally funded much of our efforts. The columnist was particularly blunt: “This man Kirtley down in Florida has made $6.3 million last year managing that fund.” The scholarship, he wrote, “has resulted in a very lucrative business for him.”  How absurd.

Pick up any of the publicly available state-mandated annual audits of Step Up or any of its annual IRS nonprofit tax returns, and it is clear that Kirtley, our board chairman, has never received a penny in compensation. In fact, these statements show he has repeatedly opened his wallet to keep the scholarship operation alive.

Read the whole commentary here at AL.com.