(1) PURPOSE.—The Family Empowerment Scholarship Program is established to provide children of families in this state which have limited financial resources with educational options to achieve success in their education.
(2) DEFINITIONS.—As used in this section, the term:
(a) “Department” means the Department of Education.
(b) “Eligible nonprofit scholarship-funding organization” has the same meaning as provided in s. 1002.395(2)(f). (c) “Eligible private school” has the same meaning as provided in s. 1002.395(2)(g). (d) “Parent” means a resident of this state who is a parent, as defined in s. 1000.21.
(e) “Program” means the Family Empowerment Scholarship Program.
(3) INITIAL SCHOLARSHIP ELIGIBILITY.—A student is eligible for a Family Empowerment Scholarship under this section if the student meets the following criteria: (a)1. The student is on the direct certification list pursuant to s. 1002.395(2)(c) or the student’s household income level does not exceed 300 percent of the federal poverty level; or 2. The student is currently placed, or during the previous state fiscal year was placed, in foster care or in out-of-home care as defined in s. 39.01.
Priority shall be given to students whose household income levels do not exceed 185 percent of the federal poverty level or who are in foster care or out-of-home care. A student who initially receives a scholarship based on eligibility under subparagraph 2. remains eligible to participate until the student graduates from high school or attains the age of 21 years, whichever occurs first, regardless of the student’s household income level. A sibling of a student who is participating in the scholarship program under this subsection is eligible for a scholarship if the student resides in the same household as the sibling.
(b) The student is eligible to enroll in kindergarten or has spent the prior school year in attendance at a Florida public school. For purposes of this paragraph, prior school year in attendance means that the student was enrolled and reported by a school district for funding during the preceding October and February Florida Education Finance Program surveys in kindergarten through grade 12, which includes time spent in a Department of Juvenile Justice commitment program if funded under the Florida Education Finance Program. However, a dependent child of a member of the United States Armed Forces who transfers to a school in this state from out of state or from a foreign country due to a parent’s permanent change of station orders or a foster child is exempt from the prior public school attendance requirement under this paragraph, but must meet the other eligibility requirements specified under this section to participate in the program.
(c) The parent has obtained acceptance for admission of the student to a private school that is eligible for the program under subsection (8), and the parent has requested a scholarship from the Department of Education at least 60 days before the date of the first scholarship payment. The request must be communicated directly to the department in a manner that creates a written or electronic record of the request and the date of receipt of the request. The department must notify the school district of the parent’s intent upon receipt of the parent’s request.
(4) TERM OF SCHOLARSHIP.—
(a) For purposes of continuity of educational choice, a Family Empowerment Scholarship shall remain in force until the student returns to a public school, graduates from high school, or reaches the age of 21, whichever occurs first. A scholarship student who enrolls in a public school or public school program is considered to have returned to a public school for the purpose of determining the end of the scholarship’s term. However, if a student enters a Department of Juvenile Justice detention center for a period of no more than 21 days, the student is not considered to have returned to a public school for that purpose.
(b) Upon reasonable notice to the department and the school district, the student’s parent may remove the student from the private school and place the student in a public school in accordance with this section.
(c) Upon reasonable notice to the department, the student’s parent may move the student from one participating private school to another participating private school.
(5) SCHOLARSHIP PROHIBITIONS.—A student is not eligible for a Family Empowerment Scholarship while he or she is: (a) Enrolled in a public school, including, but not limited to, the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind, the College-Preparatory Boarding Academy, a developmental research school authorized under s. 1002.32, or a charter school authorized under this chapter;
(b) Enrolled in a school operating for the purpose of providing educational services to youth in a Department of Juvenile Justice commitment program;
(c) Receiving any other educational scholarship pursuant to this chapter;
(d) Participating in a home education program as defined in s. 1002.01(1); (e) Participating in a private tutoring program pursuant to s. 1002.43; or
(f) Participating in a virtual school, correspondence school, or distance learning program that receives state funding pursuant to the student’s participation.
(6) SCHOOL DISTRICT OBLIGATIONS.—
(a) By July 15, 2019, and by April 1 of each year thereafter, a school district shall inform all households within the district receiving free or reduced-priced meals under the National School Lunch Act of their eligibility to apply to the department for a Family Empowerment Scholarship. The form of such notice shall be provided by the department, and the school district shall include the provided form in any normal correspondence with eligible households. Such notice is limited to once a year.
(b) The school district in which a participating student resides must notify the student and his or her parent about the locations and times to take all statewide assessments under s. 1008.22 if the student chooses to participate in such assessments. Upon the request of the department, a school district shall coordinate with the department to provide to a participating private school the statewide assessments administered under s. 1008.22 and any related materials for administering the assessments. For a student who participates in the Family Empowerment Scholarship Program whose parent requests that the student take the statewide assessments under s. 1008.22, the district in which the student attends a private school shall provide locations and times to take all statewide assessments. A school district is responsible for implementing test administrations at a participating private school, including the:
1. Provision of training for private school staff on test security and assessment administration procedures;
2. Distribution of testing materials to a private school;
3. Retrieval of testing materials from a private school;
4. Provision of the required format for a private school to submit information to the district for test administration and enrollment purposes; and
5. Provision of any required assistance, monitoring, or investigation at a private school.
(c) Each school district must publish information about the Family Empowerment Scholarship Program on the district’s website homepage. At a minimum, the published information must include a website link to the Family Empowerment Scholarship Program published on the Department of Education website as well as a telephone number and e-mail that students and parents may use to contact relevant personnel in the school district to obtain information about the scholarship.
(7) DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION OBLIGATIONS.—The department shall:
(a) Publish and update, as necessary, information on the department website about the Family Empowerment Scholarship Program, including, but not limited to, student eligibility criteria, parental responsibilities, and relevant data.
(b) Cross-check the list of participating scholarship students with the public school enrollment lists before each scholarship payment to avoid duplication.
(8) PRIVATE SCHOOL ELIGIBILITY AND OBLIGATIONS.—To be eligible to participate in the Family Empowerment Scholarship Program, a private school may be sectarian or nonsectarian and must: (a) Comply with all requirements for private schools participating in state school choice scholarship programs pursuant to s. 1002.421.
(b) Provide to the department all documentation required for a student’s participation, including the private school’s and student’s fee schedules, at least 30 days before any quarterly scholarship payment is made for the student pursuant to paragraph (11)(f). A student is not eligible to receive a quarterly scholarship payment if the private school fails to meet this deadline.
(c)1. Annually administer or make provision for students participating in the program in grades 3 through 10 to take one of the nationally norm-referenced tests identified by the department or to take the statewide assessments pursuant to s. 1008.22. Students with disabilities for whom standardized testing is not appropriate are exempt from this requirement. A participating private school shall report a student’s scores to his or her parent. 2. Administer the statewide assessments pursuant to s. 1008.22 if the private school chooses to offer the statewide assessments. A participating private school may choose to offer and administer the statewide assessments to all students who attend the private school in grades 3 through 10 and must submit a request in writing to the department by March 1 of each year in order to administer the statewide assessments in the subsequent school year.
If a private school fails to meet the requirements of this subsection or s. 1002.421, the commissioner may determine that the private school is ineligible to participate in the scholarship program.
(9) PARENT AND STUDENT RESPONSIBILITIES FOR PROGRAM PARTICIPATION.—A parent who applies for a Family Empowerment Scholarship is exercising his or her parental option to place his or her child in a private school.
(a) The parent must select the private school and apply for the admission of his or her student.
(b) The parent must request the scholarship at least 60 days before the date of the first scholarship payment.
(c) The parent must inform the applicable school district when the parent withdraws his or her student from a public school to attend an eligible private school.
(d) Any student participating in the program must remain in attendance throughout the school year unless excused by the school for illness or other good cause.
(e) Before enrolling in a private school, a student and his or her parent or guardian must meet with the private school’s principal or the principal’s designee to review the school’s academic programs and policies, customized educational programs, code of student conduct, and attendance policies.
(f) The parent shall ensure that the student participating in the scholarship program takes the norm-referenced assessment offered by the private school. The parent may also choose to have the student participate in the statewide assessments pursuant to paragraph (6)(b).
(g) If the parent requests that the student participating in the program take all statewide assessments required pursuant to s. 1008.22, the parent is responsible for transporting the student to the assessment site designated by the school district.
(h) Upon receipt of a scholarship warrant, the parent to whom the warrant is issued must restrictively endorse the warrant to the private school for deposit into the private school’s account. The parent may not designate any entity or individual associated with the participating private school as the parent’s attorney in fact to endorse a scholarship warrant. A participant who fails to comply with this paragraph forfeits the scholarship.
(10) OBLIGATIONS OF ELIGIBLE SCHOLARSHIP-FUNDING ORGANIZATIONS.—An eligible nonprofit scholarship-funding organization:
(a) Shall verify the household income level of students pursuant to subparagraph (3)(a)1. and submit the verified list of students and related documentation to the department.
(b) May, from eligible contributions received pursuant to s. 1002.395(6)(j)1., use an amount not to exceed 1 percent of the total amount of all scholarships awarded under this section for administrative expenses associated with performing functions under this section. Such administrative expense amount is considered within the 3 percent limit on the total amount an organization may use to administer scholarships under this chapter.
(c) Must, in a timely manner, submit any information requested by the department relating to the scholarship under this section.
(d) Must notify the department about any violation of this section by a parent or a private school.
(11) SCHOLARSHIP FUNDING AND PAYMENT.—
(a) The scholarship is established for up to 18,000 students annually on a first-come, first-served basis beginning with the 2019-2020 school year. Beginning in the 2020-2021 school year, the number of students participating in the scholarship program under this section may annually increase by 0.25 percent of the state’s total public school student enrollment.
(b) The scholarship amount provided to a student for any single school year shall be for tuition and fees for an eligible private school, not to exceed annual limits, which shall be determined in accordance with this paragraph. The calculated amount for a student to attend an eligible private school shall be based upon the grade level and school district in which the student was assigned as 95 percent of the funds per unweighted full-time equivalent in the Florida Education Finance Program for a student in the basic program established pursuant to s. 1011.62(1)(c)1., plus a per-full-time equivalent share of funds for all categorical programs, except for the Exceptional Student Education Guaranteed Allocation.
(c) The amount of the Family Empowerment Scholarship shall be the calculated amount or the amount of the private school’s tuition and fees, whichever is less. The amount of any assessment fee required by the participating private school may be paid from the total amount of the scholarship.
(d) The school district shall report all students who are attending a private school under this program. The students attending private schools on Family Empowerment Scholarships shall be reported separately from other students reported for purposes of the Florida Education Finance Program.
(e) Following notification on July 1, September 1, December 1, or February 1 of the number of program participants, the department shall transfer, from general revenue funds only, the amount calculated pursuant to paragraph (b) to a separate account for the scholarship program for quarterly disbursement to parents of participating students. For a student exiting a Department of Juvenile Justice commitment program who chooses to participate in the scholarship program, the amount of the Family Empowerment Scholarship calculated pursuant to paragraph (b) must be transferred from the school district in which the student last attended a public school before commitment to the Department of Juvenile Justice. When a student enters the scholarship program, the department must receive all documentation required for the student’s participation, including the private school’s and the student’s fee schedules, at least 30 days before the first quarterly scholarship payment is made for the student.
(f) Upon notification by the department that it has received the documentation required under paragraph (e), the Chief Financial Officer shall make scholarship payments in four equal amounts no later than September 1, November 1, February 1, and April 1 of each school year in which the scholarship is in force. The initial payment shall be made after department verification of admission acceptance, and subsequent payments shall be made upon verification of continued enrollment and attendance at the private school. Payment must be by individual warrant made payable to the student’s parent and mailed by the department to the private school of the parent’s choice, and the parent shall restrictively endorse the warrant to the private school for deposit into the account of the private school.
(g) Subsequent to each scholarship payment, the department shall request from the Department of Financial Services a sample of endorsed warrants to review and confirm compliance with endorsement requirements.
(12) LIABILITY.—No liability shall arise on the part of the state based on the award or use of a Family Empowerment Scholarship.
(13) SCOPE OF AUTHORITY.—The inclusion of eligible private schools within the options available to Florida public school students does not expand the regulatory authority of the state, its officers, or any school district to impose any additional regulation of private schools beyond those reasonably necessary to enforce requirements expressly set forth in this section.
(14) RULES.—The State Board of Education shall adopt rules pursuant to ss. 120.536(1) and 120.54 to administer this section. The state board rules must include a requirement that the department work collaboratively with an approved scholarship-funding organization to expedite the process for the verification and reporting obligations specified under subsection (10). (15) IMPLEMENTATION SCHEDULE FOR THE 2019-2020 SCHOOL YEAR.—Notwithstanding the provisions of this section related to notification requirements and eligibility timelines, for the 2019-2020 school year:
(a) A student is eligible for a Family Empowerment Scholarship under this section if the student’s parent has obtained acceptance of the student’s admission to a private school that is eligible for the program under subsection (8), and the parent has requested a scholarship from the Department of Education no later than August 15, 2019. The request must be communicated directly to the department in a manner that creates a written or electronic record of the request and the date of receipt of the request.
(b) The department shall expedite the publication of information relevant to the Family Empowerment Scholarship Program on the department’s website, including, but not limited to, the eligibility criteria for students to qualify for the scholarship under this section and how parents may request the scholarship. The department must immediately notify the school district of the parent’s intent upon receipt of the parent’s request.
(c) Upon notification by the department that it has received the documentation required under paragraph (10)(a), the Chief Financial Officer shall make the first quarter payment of scholarships no later than October 1, 2019.
This subsection shall expire June 30, 2020.