Florida setting aside $45 million in relief for private schools, low-income private school families

St. Joseph Academy in Lakeland announced at the end of May it was closing, another telling sign that COVID-19 is eroding the financial ground beneath private schools.

Florida private schools rocked by the pandemic and low-income families who use state school choice scholarships will receive $45 million in federal relief funding, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Thursday.

The money is part of $173.6 million Florida is receiving through the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund, which in turn is part of the $944 million in K-12 relief the state is getting from the massive assistance package Congress passed in March.

DeSantis is setting aside $30 million as a safety net for the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship, which serves 100,000 lower-income students and is the biggest private school choice program in the country. The scholarships are funded by corporate contributions, which could slow as the recession continues.

(The program is administered by nonprofits like Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog.)

The governor also is putting $15 million towards “private school stabilization grant funds” that hard-hit private schools can apply for. The grants will be limited to schools where 50 percent or more of students use choice scholarships. The grant pot will grow if there is money left over from the $30 million set aside for the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship.

For a little more on both proposals, go to pages 128-29 here.

The assistance for Florida private schools was rolled into a Thursday announcement that focused on steps for re-opening schools in the fall and how the rest of the federal K-12 relief would be spent.

While the $45 million is a small percentage of the total $944 million package for K-12, it will be a lifeline for some private schools. Some are at risk of significant enrollment loss, if not closure, and nearly 6 in 10 said in an April survey that they were worried about their viability for the coming school year.

In recent weeks, an 82-year-old Catholic school in Lakeland and a private school in Orlando serving students with autism both announced they were shutting down.