Starting this year, Florida is making it possible for corporations to give donations to private scholarship-granting foundations in return for a dollar-for-dollar credit on their tax bills.
Corporations can take a tax credit equal to 100 percent of their donations, for up to 75 percent of their state income-tax liability, to foundations that have been approved by the state Department of Education. Children who have been enrolled in public schools and qualify for free or reduced school lunch programs are eligible to receive the scholarships of up to $3,500, which they can apply toward tuition at a school of their choice.
The program is currently capped at $50 million per year, with corporations receiving the credits on a first-come, first-served basis. As of March, Florida's Department of Revenue had approved $16.5 million worth of credits for the program.
"My three children attend public school and I'm happy with their education," said state Representative Joe Negron, a sponsor of the program, "but a lot of parents throughout the state, particularly minorities, are unhappy with their neighborhood schools and are looking for an option."
The program has its critics, including state Representative Bob Henriquez, who says it drains money from the state at a time of budget difficulties and gives private education an unfair fundraising advantage over other causes, including public schools. "You can talk to people who are involved in public-education foundations around the state," Henriquez says, "and they're dying on the vine."