What to know about Florida’s new private school voucher program that has no income limits

Miami Herald | By Lauren Constantino and Jimena Tavel | August 14, 2023

Florida’s new school voucher expansion that Gov. DeSantis signed into law in March made private school vouchers of about $8,000 a year available to all K-12 students regardless of family income.

With income caps and other restrictions lifted ahead of the 2023-2024 school year, more parents than ever before are applying for taxpayer-funded education savings accounts to use for private school tuition, transportation, and other related costs including books, testing and registration fees. The exact use of the funds depends on the scholarship parents choose to apply to.

The Miami Herald heard from about two dozen parents who applied for the scholarships, many of whom lauded the program for helping them afford alternative educational options for their children. Others, however, criticized the vouchers for rerouting money away from public schools. And not all private schools are accepting the vouchers.

Joe Sharp, the CFO of Jewish Leadership Academy near Miami Shores, a Jewish middle and upper school that opens this year, said participating in the expanded voucher program was a “no-brainer.”

JLA will enroll any student who is accepted into the school, regardless of a family’s financial needs. The vouchers, along with a need-based tuition fee schedule ranging from $4,000 to $44,000 per year, will help make this a reality. The school is still getting approved to accept the vouchers — a year-long process that requires schools to submit health and safety code inspections, frequent site visits by the state and administering annual tests. But Sharp says it’s all worth it.

“It’s not so much because of the financial benefits to school, but I know how much it means to the parents. It lifts such a weight off their shoulders,” Sharp said.

Moshe Matz, a father of 11 children, five of whom are school-aged, said for many Orthodox Jewish families, religious schools are often viewed as their only option, as they adhere to Kosher meals, observe Jewish holidays and foster a Jewish culture.

“In the Orthodox Jewish community, you’re going to find that it’s not a choice between going to public school or going to a Jewish private school; it’s just a matter of choosing which Jewish private school is best suited for our children,” he said. “This is a really vital program.”

But some parents feel conflicted about taking advantage of the vouchers, especially if they can afford private schools without them.

“I see how every dollar counts, so in my mind I know that this will ultimately be taking away from the public schools,” said one Fort Lauderdale parent who asked not to use her name, but is using the scholarship to help send her daughter to a private school for the first time. “I think that it is absolutely absurd to not have an income cap on the people that you are giving this money to. I certainly don’t need it.”

Other parents wholeheartedly agree.

“It seems not to be on a level playing field, in my opinion,” said Ronald Roberts, 79, a new Florida resident, father and avid supporter of public schools. “I think any schools that are religious schools should not be receiving public money. A church or a religion wants to have a school, that should be up to them to pay the money.”

Here’s what to know about private school vouchers and other state scholarships:


House Bill 1, signed into law on March 27, essentially expands the available school choice scholarship options to Florida families looking for a non-public school.

Under the new law, the Family Empowerment Scholarship, established in 2019 to provide more options to families with limited financial resources, no longer has any financial and enrollment restrictions. Families can use the funds to enroll students in an approved private school.

HB 1 also expands the enrollment cap for scholarships for students with disabilities to about 40,000 students for the 2023-24 school year, according to the state department of education website.

Alternatively, K-12 students who are enrolled in a public school that is different from the school they were assigned can receive a $750 scholarship to help cover the cost of transportation if the school district does not provide transportation to the school.


Yes. A parent of a student can apply and receive a state scholarship as long as the student is a Florida resident and is eligible to enroll in kindergarten through grade 12.

The state will give top priority to families at or below 185% of the federal poverty level or students who are in the foster care system, then to families with household income levels between 185% and 400% of the poverty level, according to a fact sheet from the Department of Education.

For a family of four, that translates to a household income of $55,500 to $120,000 a year.


There’s been some confusion over which scholarships parents can and should be applying for, according to several parents who spoke to the Miami Herald.

The Family Empowerment Scholarship has two options:

1. Family Empowerment Scholarship for Educational Options

This is the newly expanded option that offers education savings accounts of around $8,000 a year — last year the average award amount was $7,700 — for any K-12 student to attend a participating private school. Families have to apply annually through one of the approved scholarship funding organizations — either A.A.A. Scholarship Foundation or Step Up for Students. This is the option that also offers families a $750 scholarship for transportation to a public school different from the school that the student was assigned. 2. Family Empowerment Scholarship for Students with Unique Abilities

2. Family Empowerment Scholarship for Students with Unique Abilities

This option offers families of students with disabilities a choice of either enrolling their child in another public school, or receiving funds in an education savings account to use for things like private school tuition, online learning programs, private tutoring, community college costs, or approved customized learning devices. Generally, there are more options for what parents can use these funds for, including a home-school program.

Families should also apply through A.A.A. or Step Up annually. Students must be at least 3 years of age, have a Individualized Education Plan or a diagnosis of a disability from a licensed physician or psychologist. The average scholarship last year was about $9,700.

Florida Tax Credit Scholarships

This scholarship, created in 2001, was originally for children of families who have limited financial resources. The new law eliminates financial eligibility restrictions, but still prioritizes awards to low-income students.

Florida offers six scholarship programs, in total, that fall under the school choice umbrella, including the Hope scholarship for students who have been the subject of bullying and the New Worlds reading scholarship for students who have a substantial reading deficiency. Find more information about K-12 state scholarships here.


Traditional home education options are only available to students who receive the unique abilities scholarship.

However, the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship will include a home-school option for up to 20,000 students this year, referred to as a personalized education program (PEP). Families should indicate their interest in the new option when completing their application.


No. Private schools are not required to participate in K-12 state scholarships. In fact, several private schools in Miami-Dade and Broward have already informed parents that they are not accepting any state vouchers. Private schools must request to participate in the Family Empowerment Scholarship and have to be approved by the Department of Education.

It’s important to check with your child’s school first to see if they accept state scholarships before applying. To find out about your child’s private school, check the school’s website or call the financial aid director. You can also use the portal listed on Step Up scholarship website to search individual schools for their scholarship availability.

Some private schools that are not accepting any state vouchers include: Ransom Everglades School, Gulliver Preparatory School, Carrollton School Of The Sacred Heart, Miami Country Day School, Palmer Trinity School, St. Stephen’s Episcopal Day School, St. Philip’s Episcopal School, St. Thomas Episcopal Parish School, American Heritage School and Westminster Christian School.

Many private schools offer financial aid without the state’s help.

“To maintain our independence, Gulliver Prep does not accept any state or federal funds, financial assistance or scholarship programs,” a spokesperson for the school said in a statement. “We provide over $10 million annually in need-based financial aid, tuition remission, and merit scholarships funded by our operating budget and donations.”


Parents can apply through one of the scholarship funding organizations that will administer the program, Step Up for Students and AAA Scholarship Foundation — but AAA has stopped accepting applications for the 2023-2024 school year. The Step Up program is still accepting new applications here.

Different scholarships have different requirements, but most require parents to submit their most recent pay stub as proof of income, proof of residency, any additional sources of income, and identification for primary and secondary parents such as a driver’s license or passport.

The Step Up website has an application checklist for parents here.


Step Up For Students is still accepting applications for the new school year, but it’s possible that at some point they may exceed program capacity, according to its website.

“The annual number of available scholarships is determined by the amount of available funding. In the event that program capacity is met, a wait list will be instituted. We strongly encourage you to submit your application immediately. Applications are reviewed on a first-come, first-served basis. “

You can check the status of your application by calling 877-735-7837, emailing info@stepupforstudents.org or following the instructions detailed here.


Yes. Some actions may lead to the loss of a scholarship including:

  • Misrepresenting or withholding information on the scholarship application.
  • Enrolling in a private school that is not eligible to participate.
  • Failure to regularly attend the private school. ▪ Failure of the parent to approve quarterly scholarship payments.
  • Failure of the student to take a required nationally norm-referenced test or the statewide assessment.
  • Moving out of the state of Florida ▪ Returning to a public school or utilizing another statewide scholarship.


Superintendent of Miami-Dade Schools Jose Dotres said he’s trying to stay positive about the expanded voucher program: He’s choosing to view it as a challenge for the nation’s third-largest school district, which like many other districts across the country, has been losing students due to the pandemic and other issues.

“We have to create schools that are successful in attracting parents and retaining students. That is our greatest focus as we move forward in this new landscape where we have parents that can opt to leave us,” he said. “I believe one of the things that we have to focus on is the student experience, how students feel at school and what their day looks like.”

Broward Superintendent Peter Licata thinks of the voucher program expansion in terms of food. Up until now, Florida public schools had received eight slices of the pie, and now they’ll receive seven, he said.

“This is going to be tough on us,” he said, shaking his head during an early July interview with the Herald.

Still, he agreed with Dotres that it’s time to innovate. That may include repurposing some schools if they’re under-enrolled and finding new ways to hire teachers, perhaps providing them with public housing, he said.

“How do we attract teachers to come here so that when we say we have the best programs and the best teachers, kids will come here? We got to make sure our programs match what the industry is requesting, what the labor force is needing,” he said.

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