Step Up for Students is a social justice program organized to help low-income families in Florida access effective learning opportunities for children who are between kindergarten and 12thgrade. The organization provides Tax Credit Scholarships for children to attend private schools or schools that are in different districts. The program allows families to choose schools based on the individual needs of the student, an option that is already available to families with higher incomes.
Tampa businessman John Kirtley set out to influence the educational choices of low-income students. He recognized that children learn in different ways and that all children should have equal opportunities for learning. In 1998, Kirtley funded 750 scholarships through the Children’s Scholarship Fund of Tampa Bay, but his organization received 12, 500 applications. In 2001, Kirtley persuaded the Florida Legislature that every child deserved educational options, and the scholarship program was funded for the 2002-2003 school year.
The Tax Credit Scholarships, as they are commonly called, are not tied into student or school performance. They are not an indictment about public education, but rather a way for students to access programs such as magnet schools, charter schools, online courses and many other options. Children who apply for the scholarships are among the most impoverished in the state, and among the poorest school performers. Step Up for Students partners with public school systems to provide equal opportunities in education.
Each applicant must have been enrolled in a Florida public school for the prior year. The scholarships provide $4011 for private school tuition and books, and up to $500 in transportation costs for attendance in an out-of-district public school. For income guidelines and rules, visit the Step Up for Students website at www.stepupforstudents.org. For more information, the organization's phone number is 877-735-7837.