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All Posts by Lisa Davis

Step Up For Students starts new fundraising effort for scholarship support services

By Lisa A. Davis

Since the Florida Tax Credit (FTC) Scholarship was created by lawmakers in 2001, more than 400,000 K-12 scholarships have been awarded to low-income children seeking access to additional educational options. These scholarships would not have been possible without the support of  corporations who have donated more than $2 billion to the program.

This year alone, about 78,000 students are using scholarships administered by Step Up For Students, a state-approved scholarship funding organization, to attend the schools of their choice.

“While those numbers and our accomplishments helping children are impressive, Step Up For Students wants to do even more,” said Alissa Randall, Step Up’s chief marketing officer and vice president of advancement. “We don’t want to only hand out scholarships, we want increase the value of those scholarships by creating programs and tools that enhance our students’ overall academic experience.”

prospectus coverFlorida Tax Credit Scholarships are funded through corporations that have state tax liabilities in Florida. Corporations may donate up to 100 percent of certain corporate tax liabilities and earn dollar-for-dollar tax credits for their contribution to state-approved scholarship funding organizations such as Step Up. By law, Step Up must use at least 97 percent of the corporate contributions for scholarship funds; up to 3 percent of the remaining funds may go to administrative costs.

This small administrative fund has never been sufficient to enable Step Up to provide the level of service families and schools deserve, which is why Step Up  has always raised private funds to support its efforts, Step Up leaders say. This is why Step Up is redoubling these fundraising efforts through a new initiative called Stepping Beyond, Boosting Success.

“This new fundraising effort will help students maximize the impact of their Step Up scholarship and help them reach their full potential,” said Randall, who is leading this effort. “These additional dollars will help provide much-needed support services for our scholars. We plan on providing tools for students, parents, and teachers to work together to enhance the child’s success.”

This new fundraising initiative will seek out philanthropic individuals, corporations and foundations that cannot donate through the tax credit program, but have an interest in Step Up’s quest to provide more and better educational options for all disadvantaged children.

Through its Office of Student Learning, Step Up offers educational support services and professional development to strengthen partnerships between home and school. As part of the Stepping Beyond, Boosting Success initiative, Step Up will build upon these initiatives to better ensure all scholarship students are receiving the quality education that best meets their needs.

“’Every child deserves a chance to succeed’ is one of our most important values,” Randall said. “We want to bolster that chance.”

To learn more about donation opportunities, please contact Alissa Randall at  (727) 451-9800 or email arandall@sufs.org. Or to donate now.

 

 

Breitburn Energy pledges $1.2 million to support Step Up For Students’ scholarship program for low-income K-12 students in Florida

By Lisa A. Davis

TAMPA – Step Up For Students and Breitburn Energy Partners LP (NASDAQ:BBEP) announced this week a new partnership bringing the nonprofit scholarship funding organization and oil and gas company together to support children who need K-12 educational options.

Breitburn,  a publicly traded, independent oil and gas master limited partnership focused on the acquisition, development, and production of oil and gas properties throughout the United States, has pledged $1.2 million, which will provide 205 scholarships for the current school year.  Breitburn designated their funds to assist Step Up scholars in those counties where Breitburn is currently operating:  Collier, Escambia, Hendry, Lee and Santa Rosa.  So far, about 1,220 Step Up scholars are enrolled  in private schools in those counties for the 2015-16 school year.

Breitburn_logo_stackedHal Washburn, Breitburn’s CEO said:  “We are excited to be contributing to Step Up scholars in Collier, Escambia, Hendry, Lee and Santa Rosa counties, the communities where we operate in Florida.  Our dedicated employees serve as important role models in those communities, and our pledge demonstrates our further support for them, their families and their neighbors.  We believe that assisting in the education of our youth and future leaders is one of the best ways to invest in the communities where we do business.”

Step Up For Students helps administer the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program, which helps Florida’s poorest families to send their children to the private school of their choice with a scholarship worth up to $5,677 , or use a $500  scholarship to help pay for transportation to an out-of-county public school.

“With corporate donors like Breitburn, this year alone, we are able to help about 78,000 students attend a school that best meets their learning needs,” said Step Up President Doug Tuthill. “For that, we are truly grateful, and we know thousands of parents and guardians are, too.”

 

 

A lesson in history: Labor Day

By Lisa A. Davis

today's lesson snipThe modern Labor Day has long been associated with the official end of summer, and it wasn’t so long ago that most schools, public and private and those in between, waited until this holiday passed before opening the doors to another school year. Now, most of us know it as the first Monday off from what has been a very short school year so far.

It’s a day of backyard barbecues, family gatherings, trips to the beach and yes, another reason for retailers of many kinds to have a big sale. But what many people don’t know is the history behind the day celebrated the first Monday of September year after year. The funny thing is the first Labor Day was actually celebrated on Tuesday, Sept. 5, 1882, but that changed two years later. After all, we certainly like those long holiday weekends

So here are some helpful links to learn a bit more about the history of Labor Day:

History of Labor Day by the U.S. Department of Labor

Time For Kids History of Labor Day

History Channel’s Labor Day Video

New York Post: The evolution of Labor Day — and of American labor

Happy reading and Happy Labor Day! Be safe, everyone!

 

 

 

 

 

The distorted history of Florida tax credit scholarships

Editor’s note: This post first appeared on Aug. 31 on redefinED, a blog sponsored by Step Up For Students. It is written by Jon East, Step Up For Students vice president of Public Affairs and Policy.

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Jon East

In a new appellate brief asking the courts to throw out a 14-year-old scholarship serving 78,000 of the state’s most economically disadvantaged students, lawyers for Florida’s teachers union have doubled down on a conspiracy theory. These attempts to sow seeds of doubt about the political origins of the Tax Credit Scholarship strike the unusual combination of being both irrelevant and wrong.The brief, filed 10 days ago in the First District Court of Appeal following a circuit judge’s decision in May to dismiss the case on standing, opens with a bold assertion: “The challenged program is the successor program to the Opportunity Scholarship Program previously invalidated by both this Court and the Florida Supreme Court.”

The claim is similar to those made publicly over the past year by Florida Education Association attorney Ron Meyer, and unfortunately has seeped its way into the broader media narrative around the program. Even in recent presidential campaign stories about former Gov. Jeb Bush’s education record, outlets from The 74 to the New York Post have reported versions of the claim as fact. The Post wrote, without attribution, that: “When a state court nixed the program in 2006, Bush created a new voucher system, funded by private businesses, that withstood a court challenge from teachers.” A column in the Florida Times-Union last week also chimed in: “It became a government program, diverting tax dollars in the form of ‘tax credits’ into a tuition-granting organization only after the voucher portion of Gov. Jeb Bush’s A+ program was stricken by the courts.”

The teachers union is trying to sell its lawsuit as a type of police action for Bush v. Holmes, the 2006 Supreme Court decision that overturned publicly funded school vouchers for students who were assigned to district schools judged to be failing. Meyer wants judges to believe lawmakers made a fast end-around on the Holmes decision.

A broad expanse of case law suggests this distinction is, constitutionally speaking, a red herring. After all, the U.S. Supreme Court and three state supreme courts have all found in favor of tax credit scholarships, and no state courts have ultimately ruled against them. The U.S. Supreme Court, in its 2011 precedent, went so far as to deny standing to those challenging tax credit scholarships in Arizona, ruling that tax-credited contributions are not the same as government expenditures.

Arizona draws an even clearer legal line. In cases that are strikingly similar to Florida, the Arizona Supreme Court approved of scholarships funded by tax-credited contributions on the one hand and outlawed publicly funded vouchers on the other. “This tax credit is not an appropriation of public money,” it wrote in the first instance. “Unlike the funds (for tax credit scholarships), the funds at issue here are withdrawn from the public treasury and earmarked for an identified purpose,” it wrote later in rejecting direct vouchers.

But let’s return to the conspiracy theory for what it’s worth. Merriam-Webster defines “successor” as someone or something that “follows in sequence” or “after someone else.” That is simply not the history here. The Tax Credit Scholarship was passed into law in 2001, five years before the Bush v. Holmes decision that invalidated tax-funded vouchers under the Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP). Five years.

On the next page of its brief, the FEA contradicts the “successor” claim when it acknowledges that the Legislature created the program “while the Holmes litigation against the OSP was still pending” – not after the court had ruled.

Later in the brief, the FEA takes the conspiracy down a different path, linking growth in the Tax Credit Scholarship to the court decision: “Since the 2005-2006 school year — when the Supreme Court invalidated the OSP — the amount of tax revenue that has been diverted to pay for these private-school vouchers has increased from $88 million to more than $286 million.”

In this instance, at least, the brief captures the correct time frame for the Bush v. Holmes decision. But the implication that the Legislature began growing the Tax Credit Scholarship program as a means of replacing the OSP is nonsensical. The tax credit program has never provided eligibility for students who are assigned to public schools deemed to be failing, and the growth in the scholarship reflects primarily the demand from low-income families who are eligible.

In 2010, the Legislature went further and decided to allow growth to be triggered administratively when certain financial and enrollment thresholds are met. Like previous expansions of the program, the Legislature’s intent was clear: To extend learning options to more disadvantaged students.

Readers should be aware that I’m vice president for policy and public affairs at Step Up For Students, the state’s largest scholarship organization, so I can reasonably be accused of bias. But what strikes me about the conspiracy claim is how easy it is to refute and yet how prominent a role it continues to play in the FEA’s lawsuit narrative. It’s no surprise, perhaps, that the brief also implores appellate judges to adhere to a procedural requirement, at this stage, to “accept all well-pled allegations in the complaint as true.” This one is not so much.

Protect Your Children from Cyber Crime

tech kidsBy Estefania “Nia”  Nunez-Brady

We’ve all heard the horrific stories about children being lured from their home at the hand of a stranger they met online. Most of us think, this would never happen in my town, or to my child. But the reality is it can happen to any child at any time from any home.

Thinking about this sends shivers up any parent’s spine. So how do we prevent the unthinkable from happening?

Keeping a child safe from harm is every good parent’s goal, but how can you keep them safe online?  A survey from LeapFrog, a company that creates tablets for children, showed that over 50 percent of kids share personal information to strangers online, including name, number, address, school and other personal information. Risks will always exist when kids are surfing the web but Step Up For Students compiled five steps parents can take to help their children navigate the Internet in a safe and responsible way.

  1. Creating a safe environment for your children online, starts with turning on basic parental control settings on Internet-enabled devices and make sure the kids know what restrictions are in place.
  1. Monitor their activity as closely as possible; password-protect all of their devices and disable features that allow them to erase their browsing history, which allows you to check which sites they are visiting. And know all of their passwords, even for social media sites. And a good rule to implement is limiting computer access to only when a parent is home.
  1. Talk to your kids about the dangers and consequences of the information they share online, once the Internet gets a hold of anything, you can never get it back. Allow them to have an open communication with you regarding their activity, if they get in trouble every time they make a mistake, chances are they will start hiding things to keep them from getting in trouble.
  1. Use old school rules. Explain to your kids that “not talking to a stranger” also means online. For example, your child gets a Facebook request from a person they have never met, but they have common friends, the request should be denied because they don’t know the person. Additionally, give them the “grandma rule.” If their grandmother would be appalled to see a picture or a post, it probably should not go online. As the saying goes, the Internet is forever. Posts can follow your kids their whole lives and prevent them from getting certain jobs or getting into schools. Lastly, the “don’t take candy from strangers.” rule applies here, too. Online, this means avoiding the temptation of strangers who offer free iPads, free money, contests and other “too good to be true” items to get personal information from your kids.
  1. Google your child. Find out what the rest of the world can find out about them, show it to them and try to remove as much personal information from the web the best you can. Having personal information can open doors to steal his/her identity or to create fake profiles with their information.

The bottom line is it’s always better to be safe than sorry. Want to learn more? For more resources on Internet safety, check out these sites:

http://www.netsmartz.org/InternetSafety

http://childrescuenetwork.org/keeping-children-safe/internet-safety/

http://kidshealth.org/parent/positive/family/net_safety.html

http://www.safekids.com/kids-rules-for-online-safety/

http://www.missingkids.com/cybertipline

Sources: Kidsinthehouse.com; Leapfrog, Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office

Internet_Safety2_For_Children-pdf_Page_1Internet_Safety_For_Children-pdf_Page_2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Have you seen the scholarship in action, or do you have an idea for a story?  Please contact Estefania “Nia” Nunez-Brady, marketing specialist, at nbrady@stepupforstudents.org.

 

 

 

 

 

Florida Tax Credit Scholarships draw more disadvantaged students

Editor’s Note: This story originally ran on the redefinED blog, which is hosted by Step Up For Students, and is an education blog dedicated to recasting the way we perceive public education.

By TRAVIS PILLOW 
Florida’s tax credit scholarships continue to draw some of the state’s most disadvantaged students from struggling public schools, according to the latest evaluation of the program by independent researchers.

As in previous years, Florida Tax Credit Scholarship students kept pace, on average, with their national peers. A score of zero means a student made the same learning gains as all test-takers.
After the students enroll in private schools on the scholarship, they tend to keep pace with their peers around the country, making about a year’s worth of academic progress in a year’s time.

The report for the 2013-14 school year, released by the state Department of Education on Tuesday, is based on test scores for more than 27,000 students in grades 3-10. It is the eighth evaluation of its kind, and the first conducted by a team from the Learning Systems Institute at Florida State University, which took over the role after a 2014 change in state law.

As in previous years, Florida Tax Credit Scholarship students kept pace, on average, with their national peers. A score of zero means a student made the same learning gains as all test-takers.

While the findings are similar to previous years, they cover more students, and include results for more individual schools, than ever before.

The tax credit scholarship program is administered by Step Up For Students, which co-hosts the redefinED blog and employs the author of this post. It is the largest private school choice program in the country, and served nearly 60,000 students in the year covered by the report.

New scholarship students were more likely to be black, less likely to be white or Hispanic, and less likely to be English language learners than the low-income students who qualified for the program but did not participate. They also tended to score lower on standardized tests in public schools, and were more likely to come from schools that struggled academically. More than 25 percent of scholarship students came from public schools that had been rated “D” or “F” in the previous year.

“New [scholarship] students, as in previous years, tend to come from lower-performing public schools prior to entering the program,” the report states. “Moreover, they are more likely to be among the lower performing students in their prior school before attending the program, regardless of the performance level of their public school.”

The new evaluation also reports learning gains for scholarship students at 158 private schools, 48 more than the previous year. (Though scholarship students that year attended more than 1,400 schools, the state reports learning gains only for individual schools with at least 30 scholarship students who have current and previous-year test scores.)

Learning gains compare students’ national percentile scores from one year to the next. If students’ percentile rankings hold constant from one year to the next, they can be said to have made about a year’s worth of progress.

There is considerable variation among schools. Researchers found most of the schools achieved roughly the same learning gain as the program overall — a year’s worth of growth in a year’s time. But they also found 18 schools where students’ three-year average gains were significantly greater than the norm, and 31 schools where they were significantly less.

In their conclusion, the researchers note scholarship students overall appear to be keeping pace with their peers.

“[T]he typical FTC student tends to maintain his or her relative position in comparison with all students nationally both in mathematics and reading,” they write. “It is important to note that these national comparisons pertain to all students nationally, and not just students from low-income families.”

Travis Pillow is editor of redefinED. He spent his early professional career reporting on the inner workings of state government for a variety of news organizations, and became immersed in Florida’s education policy debates while covering schools and the Legislature for the Tallahassee Democrat. A product of Seminole County Public Schools, he received a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Florida in 2010. Reach him at tpillow@sufs.org or (407) 376-3105. Also, follow him on Twitter @travispillow.

Step Up  For Students’ technology team – Behind the Scenes – in the forefront of technology

By Gina Lynch, Step Up For Students

CaptureBehindthescenesThe SUFS Information Technology team is never really seen by anyone except for those who work inside the walls at Step Up for Students.  Did you know that Step Up has 25 people dedicated to ensuring that all of the systems are up and running and secure 24 hours a day, seven days a week and 365 days a year?

Filling out an online application for our scholarships? Using our Teaching and Learning Exchange? Sending in a Personal Learning Scholarship Accounts (PLSA) Reimbursement Request?  All of these systems are built, managed and supported by our dedicated IT staff. PLSA IT Team Collage 1

Top on the priority list for IT, is building out a new, custom software solution to be ready for the second year of the PLSA program. The PLSA program started in mid-June of 2014 and has been a huge success for more than 1,500 special needs children in Florida. Here we are in the second year and the program has the potential to nearly triple in size to support more than 5,500 special needs students across the state of Florida.  The success and growth of the PLSA program has dictated that our systems be able to handle the additional traffic without failure and with top-notch security.

The IT team took on this challenge early in May after legislation was approved. Since then, the entire team has hunkered down to work on new designs, better infrastructure and more secure policies. We have also listened to parents and providers about their issues and difficulties over the past year and are aiming to correct those pain points within the new system.

Most recently, Operations, IT, Finance and The Office of Student Learning teamed up to host parent and provider focus groups. Two evenings in August were spent with PLSA parents and providers to elicit feedback on our new system prior to going live. We received great insights and valuable feedback that went directly back to the IT team for implementation.

Team Collage 3The PLSA program is very unique and robust.  We are tasked with ensuring that the funds in the PLSA scholarship accounts are handled with care. The new system will have many new features in order to give our parents and providers the best possible experience.

The IT team’s goal is to build a very lean, intuitive system so parents and providers spend more time learning about educational tools for the specific needs of their child, and less time on burdensome paperwork and administration.

We look forward to its launch in September .

Gina Lynch is the Director of Project Management in the IT Department for Step Up for Students. She manages a team of seven talented, smart and wonderful people that are dedicated to educational choice for all children. Having two daughters of her own, ages 8 and 6, Gina is very busy with school activities, sports and keeping up with homework assignments.

 

 

 

 

 

Kurnik: ‘We homeschool because it is the best situation for our special needs child’

Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared as an article in the 2015 Back to Homeschool issue of the FPEA Connect magazine. Used by permission of the FPEA

By Mary Kurnik, Guest Blogger

We did not plan to homeschool. I definitely enjoy being home with our children, especially since my husband and I weren’t even sure we would become parents.

Through the blessing of adoption, we became parents to our daughter and, 21 months later, to our son who has autism. Thankfully, we began homeschooling when Krystyn was four years old. We figured this way, we could “try it out” for a year and send her to kindergarten if the experiment failed.

The Kurnik family, Krystyn, Libby the Lab, Mary, John and John.

The Kurnik family, Krystyn, Libby the Lab, Mary, John and John.

John was two years old at the time. He did well with Five in a Row, a literature-based, unit study approach. We all snuggled on the couch while I read our story for the day. If John chose, he could sit on the floor and keep busy with various shoeboxes filled with his “school things.” For the most part, though, he wanted to be a part of every aspect of our homeschool day, right along with his big sister. All the years of Five in a Row provided a solid foundation for a well-rounded child and built strength in reading and language arts.

An environment of family togetherness, safety and comfort at home, and learning at his own pace, have served John well. In the early years, our homeschool days consisted of many trips to the library to choose books, take part in its organized programs, and star in its theater. We went to parks and the YMCA. We belonged to MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) and a Thursday social group. We took trips to the museums, the zoo, the Florida Aquarium, and Busch Gardens. We visited many businesses to get a backstage tour in order to learn about their operations and the necessity of a practical education. We toured Tampa International Airport, fire departments, even the Coast Guard. All of these opportunities were facilitated in a small, manageable group, with Mom’s watchful eye, giving birth to independence and confidence for John.

I can’t emphasize enough how important the flexibility has been. If John is restless, he can play basketball in our driveway in between subjects or throw the ball in the backyard to our

rambunctious, loveable lab, Libby. We school year round, so if family comes in town or an event comes up, we can take advantage of that opportunity. For John’s therapy appointments, professionals are more accessible to us during the morning or early afternoon, rather than after-school hours. If John needs more time learning long division, it’s not a problem. If we need to revisit a concept in a particular subject six months from now, when he can grasp it better, no worries.

Every day is a learning opportunity at home and out in the world. Life skills are essential for John, and my husband and I endeavor to teach him more than academics. John is learning to change the oil in Dad’s truck, shop at home improvement stores, do yardwork, fix and maintain things at home, learn the value of money – all with Dad’s guidance. Mom, on the other hand, does something John calls “Mom’s Scenarios.” This is when a teachable moment comes along, no matter where we happen to be, and I run by certain scenarios with John – all the while keeping a sense of humor if warranted, or a serious tone if not. John often needs a further explanation of what is happening around him, and we are able to take the time to explain as much as he needs.

Homeschooling also allows John to be with children and adults of all ages. He is not limited to his same-aged peer group. This has been beneficial in that he is able to get along with children during his class at co-op and is also able to be best buddies with the younger set. They look up to him, and I believe John’s life is enhanced by being a role model. Learning at home allows us to build on John’s strengths and work on his weaknesses in a way that is designed for him alone.

More recently, John’s home education has been strengthened by a new state program created last year.  The Personal Learning Scholarship Accounts, or PLSA as it is better known, provides state funds to parents of special needs children that can be used for a wide range of education-related expenses. That includes private school tuition, tutoring, instructional materials, technological devices and specialized therapies from approved providers.

The amount of the PLSA varies based on the student’s disability and what county he or she lives in, but it averages about $10,000 per year. Funds that aren’t used in one year can be rolled over to the next year. They can also be used for contributions to an approved prepaid college program. As I told the The Tampa Tribune last year, “It’s hard to put into words what it means to us.  It’s a gift that was dropped from heaven.”

It’s not just that the PLSA offers funding that can make a real difference for John. It also comes with the kind of flexibility and parental authority that makes sense to home school parents, and to parents, period. It allows parents, not anyone else, to determine what mix of educational programs and services are best for their child.

Right now, we are using the PLSA to help pay for therapy to help John with an auditory processing disorder, along with books, and handwriting and keyboarding programs. We also plan to add, among other things, intensive math skills practice online, materials for robotics, a musical instrument, and a tablet so John can access specialized apps for students with autism. (For anyone who wants more information about PLSAs, contact Step Up For Students, a nonprofit that helps administer the program, at PLSA@sufs.org or 1-877-735-7837.)

Educational choice is a precious freedom, and I am grateful to be Krystyn and John’s Mom first and teacher second. Sometimes the best things in life are not planned after all.

Mary Kurnik is wife to John and has a bachelor’s degree in English education.  Her passions are homeschooling, special needs, adoption and horses.  She gives all glory to God for His master plan.  Contact her at maryedchoice@gmail.com.

 

Donor Corner: Allegiant Travel Company

Editor’s Note: Step Up For Students would not be able to provide life-changing scholarships to low-income Florida children without the help of our generous corporate donors. Occasionally, we highlight the corporations that partner with Step Up to give K-12 schoolchildren educational options beyond those dictated by a student’s ZIP code, or income level through, the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program. Today, we highlight Allegiant Travel Company. 

By Lisa A. Davis

Allegiant Travel Company specializes in linking travelers in small, underserved cities to world-class leisure destinations through its low-cost, high-efficiency, all-jet passenger airline. The company also offers other travel-related products such as hotel rooms, rental cars, and attraction tickets.

The company, which became publicly traded in 2006 under Allegiant Travel Company (NASDAQ: ALGT), also offers low-cost travel packages and has a strong presence in Florida.

“It allows working-class folks to use their local airport and fly and travel in a way that was previously economically not in their reach,” said Brian Davis, Allegiant’s vice president of marketing. “Most of the travelers we serve are budget-conscious vacation travelers, who come to town on Allegiant and are able to have a fantastic trip that’s within their budget.”Allegiantairlogo2

Since 1997, that’s exactly what Allegiant has been doing and now serves 107 cities throughout the U.S. Florida has become a vital part of Allegiant’s operations, serving Orlando, Jacksonville, Palm Beach, Punta Gorda, Fort Myers, Fort Lauderdale, Daytona Beach and St. Petersburg-Clearwater, where Allegiant recently added several new flights. This year marks the 10th anniversary of the airline’s first flight to Florida at the Orlando-Sanford International Airport.

“As our presence has grown in Florida, it’s important to give back to a community that has served us so well, and we feel we have very much become a part of over the years,” Davis said.

This was a key factor in the company deciding to partner this year with Step Up For Students, which helps administer the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program for low-income students. Allegiant has contributed $1 million to Step Up. The donation will provide about 170 students with scholarships worth up to $5,677 for the 2015-16 school year to help with tuition at participating private schools. Or, students may instead choose a scholarship worth up to $500 to help with transportation costs to out-of-county public schools.

“This demonstrates our commitment to the state of Florida,” Davis said. “This helps us go beyond just flying into the state. We are able to give back through education. Education is so important and that’s why we’re investing in it.”

Allegiant’s primary charitable focus has been working with the Make-A-Wish Foundation. It was an ideal fit, Davis said, because the majority of wishes require travel, something Allegiant could easily provide. On a smaller scale, the company has worked with local schools near its headquarters in Las Vegas, organizing book bag drives and other activities. Partnering with Step Up was the next step that made sense, he said.

“We are so grateful to Allegiant for their generous contribution and commitment in helping us provide educational options to students in Florida who need it most,” said Step Up President Doug Tuthill. “We’re excited about this upcoming school year and watching our scholarship programs grow with new donors like Allegiant. There’s no better investment than in the education of our children.”

 

 

New PLSA reimbursement system launches in early September

Byplsa-princess-header_faith_bar Lisa A. Davis

Summer has come to a close, and Step Up For Students looks forward to serving more students than ever this school year. An estimated 78,000 income-based scholars are expected to enroll in private schools throughout Florida and increased funding will allow us to award double the number of students we served last year with Personal Learning Scholarship Accounts (PLSA).

“It’s exciting,” said Jeff Giese, Step Up’s director of operations.  “We’re gearing up for another busy year and, as always, we’re looking to fine-tune systems and processes we have in place as we go along.”

One of the biggest changes this year is the PLSA reimbursement system. Step Up took down the old system this month and will launch a new user-friendly system in early September.

“What we heard from parents throughout the first year of the PLSA was that our system was cumbersome and where claims were in the process wasn’t clear, so we’ve actually built an entirely new system,” said Elizabeth Watson, Step Up’s director of client services. “We are certain this system will serve PLSA families and providers well. It will allow parents and providers full visibility to all account activity and, because this system was built by our internal IT department, any system-related issues will be addressed immediately.”

Step Up recently emailed PLSA families to alert them of the changes.

“If you didn’t receive the email, please make sure we have your current email address,” Watson said. “It’s important to keep that updated with us because for the PLSA program and the income-based scholarship program, this is our primary method of communicating with our scholarship families.”

While the transition is in the works, PLSA families won’t be able to submit new reimbursement claims or access their accounts. In the meantime, Step Up employees are still processing reimbursement claims submitted before the 5 p.m., Aug. 17.  Once the new system is launched, parents and guardians can immediately submit any claims.

“Remember, you can still be reimbursed for any approved items that were purchased, or approved services rendered after July 1, 2014 as long as you still have funds in your account,” Watson said.

For a list of approved items and services and more instructions on submitting reimbursement requests, review Step Up’s 2015-16 Parent Handbook..

For more Information, email plsaclaims@sufs.org or call the Contact Center at 877-735-7837.

“We are committed to answering calls and emails promptly during this period of downtime,” Watson said. “When the new system is live, you’ll again have full access to any account data since the beginning of your participation with the PLSA program. We look forward to hearing your feedback on the new system.”