Florida’s needy and low-income students who participate in the state’s Tax Credit Scholarship Program are more likely to attend college and receive degrees, a study released Wednesday shows.
According to The Urban Institute’s latest research, the college enrollment rate for tax credit scholarship students is about 15 percent higher than those who do not participate in the program.
For students who participate in the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program for four or more years, the number increases -- those students are 40 percent more likely to attend college compared to similarly disadvantaged students in public schools.
Florida Tax Credit Scholarship participants are also more likely to earn degrees than their peers -- according to the study, students who entered the scholarship program in their elementary school years and were on the scholarship for four or more years were 29 percent more likely to earn an associates degree than similarly disadvantaged students in public schools.
The Urban Institute studied Florida’s tax-credit “voucher” program for six years from 2004-2010 and compared college enrollment, “persistence” and attainment rates of Florida students participating in the program.
The study then compared students in the program’s successes to a matched sample of similar Florida public school students.
The Urban Institute only studied Florida colleges and did not take private or out-of-state institutions into consideration in the results -- which means even more students could be headed to college than the study discovered.
“National data indicate that low-income students from private high schools are more likely to enroll in private and out-of-state colleges than low-income students from public high schools,” the study said. “Because of this, our results may understate the true impact of FTC participation on college enrollment and degree attainment.”
The numbers show the longer a student participates in the program, the more likely they are to attend college. Students who only participated in the program for a year saw no benefit.
Students who leave the scholarship program after a short period of time tend to struggle more academically than their peers, while students who stay on the scholarship for several years perform better in school.
Since 2002, thousands of Florida students have participated in the Tax Credit Scholarship Program, which gives low-income students scholarship money to attend better-performing schools, which are often private religious schools.
Over 100,000 students participate in the program in Florida, the largest of its kind nationwide.
The Tax Credit Scholarship Program has been mired in controversy in recent years. The program was the center of a Florida Education Association lawsuit which sought to end the program, alleging it is unconstitutional and diverts much-needed funding from Florida’s public school system.
The lawsuit has been a back-and-forth battle between the teachers’ union and the voucher program, where the scholarships are entirely funded by businesses who in turn receive tax breaks for their participation.
Last year, an appeals court dismissed the lawsuit, saying the FEA and other plaintiffs failed to prove how public school funding had decreased as a result of the program.