(1) READING SCHOLARSHIP ACCOUNTS.—Reading scholarship accounts are established to provide educational options for students.
(2) ELIGIBILITY.—Contingent upon available funds, and on a first-come, first-served basis, each student in grades 3 through 5 who is enrolled in a Florida public school is eligible for a reading scholarship account if the student scored below a Level 3 on the grade 3 or grade 4 statewide, standardized English Language Arts (ELA) assessment in the prior school year. An eligible student who is classified as an English Language Learner and is enrolled in a program or receiving services that are specifically designed to meet the instructional needs of English Language Learner students shall receive priority.
(3) PARENT AND STUDENT RESPONSIBILITIES FOR PARTICIPATION.— (a) For an eligible student to receive a reading scholarship account, the student’s parent must:
1. Submit an application to an eligible nonprofit scholarship-funding organization by the deadline established by such organization; and
2. Submit eligible expenses to the eligible nonprofit scholarship-funding organization for reimbursement of qualifying expenditures, which may include:
a. Instructional materials.
b. Curriculum. As used in this sub-subparagraph, the term “curriculum” means a complete course of study for a particular content area or grade level, including any required supplemental materials and associated online instruction.
c. Tuition and fees for part-time tutoring services provided by a person who holds a valid Florida educator’s certificate pursuant to s. 1012.56, a person who holds a baccalaureate or graduate degree in the subject area, a person who holds an adjunct teaching certificate pursuant to s. 1012.57, or a person who has demonstrated a mastery of subject area knowledge pursuant to s. 1012.56(5).
d. Fees for summer education programs designed to improve reading or literacy skills.
e. Fees for after-school education programs designed to improve reading or literacy skills.
A provider of any services receiving payments pursuant to this subparagraph may not share any moneys from the reading scholarship with, or provide a refund or rebate of any moneys from such scholarship to, the parent or participating student in any manner. A parent, student, or provider of any services may not bill an insurance company, Medicaid, or any other agency for the same services that are paid for using reading scholarship funds.
(b) The parent is responsible for the payment of all eligible expenses in excess of the amount in the account in accordance with the terms agreed to between the parent and any providers and may not receive any refund or rebate of any expenditures made in accordance with paragraph (a).
(4) ADMINISTRATION.—An eligible nonprofit scholarship-funding organization participating in the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program established by s. 1002.395 may establish reading scholarship accounts for eligible students in accordance with the requirements of eligible nonprofit scholarship-funding organizations under this chapter.
(5) DEPARTMENT OBLIGATIONS.—The department shall have the same duties imposed by this chapter upon the department regarding oversight of scholarship programs administered by an eligible nonprofit scholarship-funding organization.
(6) SCHOOL DISTRICT OBLIGATIONS; PARENTAL OPTIONS.—By September 30, the school district shall notify the parent of each student in grades 3 through 5 who scored below a level 3 on the statewide, standardized ELA assessment in the prior school year of the process to request and receive a reading scholarship, subject to available funds.
(7) ACCOUNT FUNDING AND PAYMENT.—
(a) For the 2018-2019 school year, the amount of the scholarship shall be $500 per eligible student. Thereafter, the maximum amount granted for an eligible student shall be provided in the General Appropriations Act.
(b) One hundred percent of the funds appropriated for the reading scholarship accounts shall be released to the department at the beginning of the first quarter of each fiscal year.
(c) Upon notification from the eligible nonprofit scholarship-funding organization that a student has been determined eligible for a reading scholarship, the department shall release the student’s scholarship funds to such organization to be deposited into the student’s account.
(d) Accrued interest in the student’s account is in addition to, and not part of, the awarded funds. Account funds include both the awarded funds and accrued interest.
(e) The eligible nonprofit scholarship-funding organization may develop a system for payment of scholarship funds by funds transfer, including, but not limited to, debit cards, electronic payment cards, or any other means of payment that the department deems to be commercially viable or cost-effective. A student’s scholarship award may not be reduced for debit card or electronic payment fees. Commodities or services related to the development of such a system shall be procured by competitive solicitation unless they are purchased from a state term contract pursuant to s. 287.056.
(f) Payment of the scholarship shall be made by the eligible nonprofit scholarship-funding organization no less frequently than on a quarterly basis.
(g) In addition to funds appropriated for scholarships and subject to a separate, specific legislative appropriation, an organization may receive an amount equivalent to not more than 3 percent of the amount of each scholarship from state funds for administrative expenses if the organization has operated as a nonprofit entity for at least the preceding 3 fiscal years and did not have any findings of material weakness or material noncompliance in its most recent audit under s. 1002.395. Such administrative expenses must be reasonable and necessary for the organization’s management and distribution of scholarships under this section. Funds authorized under this paragraph may not be used for lobbying or political activity or expenses related to lobbying or political activity. An organization may not charge an application fee for a scholarship. Administrative expenses may not be deducted from funds appropriated for scholarships.
(h) Moneys received pursuant to this section do not constitute taxable income to the qualified student or his or her parent.
(i) A student’s scholarship account must be closed and any remaining funds shall revert to the state after:
1. Denial or revocation of scholarship eligibility by the commissioner for fraud or abuse, including, but not limited to, the student or student’s parent accepting any payment, refund, or rebate, in any manner, from a provider of any services received pursuant to subsection (3); or
2. Three consecutive fiscal years in which an account has been inactive.
(8) LIABILITY.—No liability shall arise on the part of the state based on the award or use of a reading scholarship account.
1Note.—Section 49, ch. 2018-6, provides that:
“(1) The Department of Revenue is authorized, and all conditions are deemed to be met, to adopt emergency rules pursuant to s. 120.54(4), Florida Statutes, for the purpose of administering the provisions of this act.
“(2) Notwithstanding any other provision of law, emergency rules adopted pursuant to subsection (1) are effective for 6 months after adoption and may be renewed during the pendency of procedures to adopt permanent rules addressing the subject of the emergency rules.
“(3) This section shall take effect upon this act becoming a law and shall expire January 1, 2022.”