Florida’s Step Up for Students tax-credit scholarship could be expanded to give more low-income students access to a quality education.

Encouraging private support for education alternatives provides important opportunities to help families choose schools that are best for their children-regardless of their income. In 2001, Florida established a corporate tax credit for contributions to not-for-profit organizations that award scholarships to children of low-income families to attend a private or public school of their choice. At that time, only one Democratic senator and no House Democrats voted for the program. In 2008, however, there was overwhelming bipartisan support for a $30 million expansion of the program supported by the majority of the Legislative Black Caucus and 100 percent of the Hispanic Caucus. The program was expanded again in 2009 to allow insurance companies to participate.

Today, scholarships are worth $3,750, for tuition, books and transportation, and scholarships worth up to $500 for transportation to public schools in neighboring districts are also eligible for the tax credit. Corporations earn a tax credit, dollar-for-dollar, for up to 75 percent of its state income tax liability. The state may award $88 million in tax credits annually. To date, 51,181 scholarships have been awarded, 41 percent to African- American students and 22 percent to Hispanic students.

Research on the program shows that it is helping students, and the state government’s official evaluation of the program finds that the Step Up for Students tax-credit scholarship program saves $1.49 for every dollar spent-that’s an astounding 49 percent return on investment. Proposed legislation would remove the annual $188 million contributions cap. It would also increase scholarships amounts from 60 percent to 80 percent of Florida’s public-school per-pupil funding, which amounted to nearly $8,600 according to the U.S. Department of Education.

This “sensible change” as the Tampa Tribune puts it, would be a win-win for students and taxpayers in the Sunshine State.