Florida lawmakers struck a deal (.pdf) to raise the cap on the state’s scholarship donation tax credit program by $30 million dollars last Friday, the last day of the legislative session. Under the program, businesses that donate to nonprofit scholarship organizations for poor children can claim a tax credit for the value of the donation. For the past seven years, these scholarships have been bringing private schooling within reach of families that couldn’t otherwise afford it.
But while the legislature has raised the cap on donations, that doesn’t meant the program will expand automatically. In order for the program to grow, more low income parents have to ask for the scholarships, and more businesses have to choose to make donations. The program is completely voluntary. So far, the interest definitely seems to be there: the program doubled in size over the past three years, to nearly 20,000 children.
Scholarship tax credits are a tremendous boon to low income families, businesses, and taxpayers all over the state. They broaden educational options for poor kids, let businesses directly help their communities, and for every student who chooses a private instead of a public school, they save taxpayers thousands of dollars. The maximum scholarship size allowed under the program will now be $3,950 (up from $3,750) – less than one third of total per pupil spending in Florida public schools (which was $12,263 in 2006-07, according to Richard Harbin of the Florida Dept. of Ed. – hat tip to my research assistant, Elizabeth Li).
The fact that parents are clamoring for a $4,000 scholarship to help their children escape from public schools that spend over $12,000 per year says a lot about the need for expanded educational options. No single system of schools can ever serve all children well. In education, as in so many other things, one size does not fit all.
Let’s hope governor Crist signs the new bill into law.