TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Demand for Florida's corporate tax credit voucher program is soaring among low-income families.
Total enrollment grew 20 percent to more than 34,000 students statewide this past school year. The Tampa and Jacksonville areas are seeing some of the biggest growth in enrollment.
The program has more cash to offer for scholarships because state lawmakers have been raising the tax credit cap.
Last year they raised the cap to $140 million, which allowed an extra 5,700 students to receive vouchers. The cap goes to $175 million for the coming school year.
Step Up For Students, which manages Florida's corporate tax credit program, reports that extra money should open the door for another 5,000 students to receive vouchers to enroll in private schools.
Spokeswoman Amy Graham said parents are looking for options for their children.
"I think a lot of times they find out about the tax credit program through word of mouth and they go and speak with some of the administrators at various private schools in their area and find out that there might be a school there that would best meet their child's individual needs."
Graham said the open slots for the corporate tax program filled up in record time this year. Enrollment opened in April and had to be closed before the end of May.
"We'd already received 33,000 new applications by May 21st and that was in addition to all the renewing students applying again. So we are hopeful that we can provide as many scholarships to those students as we can."
Florida gives businesses a dollar-for-dollar tax break for contributions to the corporate tax credit program. The program has been around for a decade and faced criticism that it would hurt public schools by sending some of their students to private schools.
But the legislature has continued to support and expand the system.
Students qualify based on their family's income. The threshold is currently 185 percent above the federal poverty level, but the average household income of participants is under $26,000 a year. Two-thirds of the students are black or Hispanic and three-fifths live in a single-parent home.
Last year there was a waiting list of 8,000 students and Graham expects another one for the coming year. She encourages parents to keep tabs on the program.
"They can also look at the Florida Department of Education's website to look at the directory of private schools and find some schools that might be located in their area. And then I would encourage them to talk with the private school administrators and staff to find out more about the school's curriculum and whether or not that school might be a good option for them."
You can learn more about the program at www.stepupforstudents.org.
First Coast News