New school year kicks off; enrollment and application deadlines loom

By LISA A. DAVIS

back_to_school_blackboardWith the final Florida schools kicking off the 2016-17 school year in the coming days, Step Up For Students team members have been busily working on applications for both the Florida Tax Credit (income-based) scholarship and the Gardiner Scholarship for children with certain special needs.

For the income-based scholarship, Step Up expects to have more than 92,000 students enrolled for the new year, and another several thousand more using the Gardiner to customize their learning.

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Step Up President Doug Tuthill

“This is going to be the biggest year yet,” said Step Up President Doug Tuthill. “We’re elated to be able to offer learning options to this many Florida students who need it most. I am proud and humbled by our scholarship operations staff for the incredible work they have been doing, and the long hours they have put in, to get these applications processed and awards into the hands of these deserving families.”

Step Up staff has been working tirelessly completing applications, as well as working on regular year-round duties. More than 106,000 students have been awarded on the tax-credit scholarship with nearly 91,500 enrolling by Aug. 22. Of those, about 61,200 are renewal scholars.

This year’s scholarship is worth up to $5,886 for tuition assistance or $500 for transportation funding to an out-of-district public school.

Lawmakers broadened the income-based scholarship this year to students whose household income level was slightly higher than the 185 percent of the poverty level previously required, similar to the federal free- or reduced-price lunch program. If found eligible, many of these families can receive a partial scholarship to offset tuition costs.

The changes in the law, however, still require that the lowest-income families be awarded first. About 3,200 of these families, however, have already been awarded the tax-credit scholarship, too.

“Even working class families struggle with finding the right school for their children,” Tuthill said. “It’s tough to afford private school at those income levels as well. Now, we can start assisting these families find the best school for their children, too. And that’s very exciting.”

Also through the second week of August, more than 11,800 Gardiner applications had been started with about 5,600 students with certain special needs awarded for the new school year. The average Gardiner Scholarship is worth $10,000.

Both scholarships are still available for the 2016-17 school year. Income-based applicants who have been awarded, but have not yet formally enrolled their children into a private school must do so by Aug. 31 or forfeit the scholarship. After that, Step Up will continue to award scholarships until funding is depleted. This may mean that families receive news of a scholarship during the year.

Income-based scholarships will be accepted until Sept. 30. No new applications will be accepted after this time.

Gardiner applications remain open indefinitely.

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