Moving education beyond the residential ZIP Code in Florida: Step Up provides choices
By ROGER MOONEY
School days meant a 5 a.m. wakeup call for Linzi Morris and her children so they could make the 40-minute ride across Tampa, Florida to their respective middle schools and high schools, passing more conveniently located options along the way.
Because Linzi wanted the best education opportunity for her six children.
“I looked at it as an investment, an investment in their future,” she said. “I can take the easier route, but I’m looking at it as I want them to get the best opportunity to do the best they can do.”
That’s the power behind the income-based and special-needs scholarships managed by Step Up For Students. In Florida, parents are not tethered to their neighborhood schools even when personal funds won’t stretch that far. They have the flexibility to customize their child’s education and the freedom to send their child to a school outside their zone.
Step Up offers the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship and the Family Empowerment Scholarship for those who meet the eligibility requirements found here, and the Gardiner Scholarship for those children with certain special needs who meet the criteria here.
The scholarships are portable, too, meaning if the family moves to another part of the state, the scholarship moves with them to a participating school or approved providers and resources, as does their ability to choose the best education fit for their child.
During the 2020-21 school year, nearly 100,000 economically disadvantaged schoolchildren attended one of the more than 1,800 private schools in Florida that accept Step Up’s income-based scholarships.
Since its inception in 2001, Step Up has funded 1 million scholarships.
Those scholarships were used at faith-based and non-denominational schools; schools that emphasized arts and science and schools designed for children with certain special needs.
Some parents favored small schools with smaller class sizes, so their child could have more one-on-one time with the teacher. Others sent their children to larger private schools, like St. Thomas Aquinas High in Fort Lauderdale, a Catholic school with a student population of more than 1,800.
Some parents found schools located close to home. Others, like Linzi Morris, set the alarm clock for 5 a.m.
Linzi sent all six of her children to Academy Prep Center, a private middle school in Tampa, because of its high academic standards. Her two oldest sons attended Jesuit High in Tampa, while her daughters and youngest son attended Tampa Catholic High.
Her three oldest children have graduated college. Another will graduate college in the spring. Her two youngest are still in high school.
The morning commute is long and slowed by rush-hour traffic. But to Linzi, it was worth the investment that comes with the freedom given to parents who uses the opportunity to choose the educational path for their child.
Roger Mooney can be reached at rmooney@StepUpForStudents.org.