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The Florida Statutes

The 2017 Florida Statutes

Title XLVIII
K-20 EDUCATION CODE
Chapter 1002
STUDENT AND PARENTAL RIGHTS AND EDUCATIONAL CHOICES
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F.S. 1002.395
1002.395 Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program.
(1) FINDINGS AND PURPOSE.
(a) The Legislature finds that:
1. It has the inherent power to determine subjects of taxation for general or particular public purposes.
2. Expanding educational opportunities and improving the quality of educational services within the state are valid public purposes that the Legislature may promote using its sovereign power to determine subjects of taxation and exemptions from taxation.
3. Ensuring that all parents, regardless of means, may exercise and enjoy their basic right to educate their children as they see fit is a valid public purpose that the Legislature may promote using its sovereign power to determine subjects of taxation and exemptions from taxation.
4. Expanding educational opportunities and the healthy competition they promote are critical to improving the quality of education in the state and to ensuring that all children receive the high-quality education to which they are entitled.
(b) The purpose of this section is to:
1. Enable taxpayers to make private, voluntary contributions to nonprofit scholarship-funding organizations in order to promote the general welfare.
2. Provide taxpayers who wish to help parents with limited resources exercise their basic right to educate their children as they see fit with a means to do so.
3. Promote the general welfare by expanding educational opportunities for children of families that have limited financial resources.
4. Enable children in this state to achieve a greater level of excellence in their education.
5. Improve the quality of education in this state, both by expanding educational opportunities for children and by creating incentives for schools to achieve excellence.
(c) The purpose of this section is not to prescribe the standards or curriculum for private schools. A private school retains the authority to determine its own standards and curriculum.
(2) DEFINITIONS.As used in this section, the term:
(a) “Annual tax credit amount” means, for any state fiscal year, the sum of the amount of tax credits approved under paragraph (5)(b), including tax credits to be taken under s. 220.1875 or s. 624.51055, which are approved for a taxpayer whose taxable year begins on or after January 1 of the calendar year preceding the start of the applicable state fiscal year.
(b) “Department” means the Department of Revenue.
(c) “Direct certification list” means the certified list of children who qualify for the food assistance program, the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families Program, or the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations provided to the Department of Education by the Department of Children and Families.
(d) “Division” means the Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco of the Department of Business and Professional Regulation.
(e) “Eligible contribution” means a monetary contribution from a taxpayer, subject to the restrictions provided in this section, to an eligible nonprofit scholarship-funding organization. The taxpayer making the contribution may not designate a specific child as the beneficiary of the contribution.
(f) “Eligible nonprofit scholarship-funding organization” means a state university; or an independent college or university that is eligible to participate in the William L. Boyd, IV, Florida Resident Access Grant Program, located and chartered in this state, is not for profit, and is accredited by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools; or is a charitable organization that:
1. Is exempt from federal income tax pursuant to s. 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code;
2. Is a Florida entity formed under chapter 605, chapter 607, or chapter 617 and whose principal office is located in the state; and
3. Complies with subsections (6) and (16).
(g) “Eligible private school” means a private school, as defined in s. 1002.01(2), located in Florida which offers an education to students in any grades K-12 and that meets the requirements in subsection (8).
(h) “Household income” has the same meaning as the term “income” as defined in the Income Eligibility Guidelines for free and reduced price meals under the National School Lunch Program in 7 C.F.R. part 210 as published in the Federal Register by the United States Department of Agriculture.
(i) “Owner or operator” includes:
1. An owner, president, officer, or director of an eligible nonprofit scholarship-funding organization or a person with equivalent decisionmaking authority over an eligible nonprofit scholarship-funding organization.
2. An owner, operator, superintendent, or principal of an eligible private school or a person with equivalent decisionmaking authority over an eligible private school.
(j) “Tax credit cap amount” means the maximum annual tax credit amount that the department may approve in a state fiscal year.
(k) “Unweighted FTE funding amount” means the statewide average total funds per unweighted full-time equivalent funding amount that is incorporated by reference in the General Appropriations Act, or any subsequent special appropriations act, for the applicable state fiscal year.
(3) PROGRAM; SCHOLARSHIP ELIGIBILITY.
(a) The Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program is established.
(b) A student is eligible for a Florida tax credit scholarship under this section if the student meets one or more of the following criteria:
1. The student is on the direct certification list or the student’s household income level does not exceed 185 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.
3. The student’s household income level is greater than 185 percent of the federal poverty level but does not exceed 260 percent of the federal poverty level.

A student who initially receives a scholarship based on eligibility under subparagraph (b)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.

(4) SCHOLARSHIP PROHIBITIONS.A student is not eligible for a scholarship while he or she is:
(a) Enrolled in a school operating for the purpose of providing educational services to youth in Department of Juvenile Justice commitment programs;
(b) Receiving a scholarship from another eligible nonprofit scholarship-funding organization under this section;
(c) Receiving an educational scholarship pursuant to chapter 1002;
(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;
(f) Participating in a virtual school, correspondence school, or distance learning program that receives state funding pursuant to the student’s participation unless the participation is limited to no more than two courses per school year; or
(g) Enrolled in the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind.
(5) SCHOLARSHIP FUNDING TAX CREDITS; LIMITATIONS.
(a)1. The tax credit cap amount is $229 million in the 2012-2013 state fiscal year.
2. In the 2013-2014 state fiscal year and each state fiscal year thereafter, the tax credit cap amount is the tax credit cap amount in the prior state fiscal year. However, in any state fiscal year when the annual tax credit amount for the prior state fiscal year is equal to or greater than 90 percent of the tax credit cap amount applicable to that state fiscal year, the tax credit cap amount shall increase by 25 percent. The Department of Education and Department of Revenue shall publish on their websites information identifying the tax credit cap amount when it is increased pursuant to this subparagraph.
(b) A taxpayer may submit an application to the department for a tax credit or credits under one or more of s. 211.0251, s. 212.1831, s. 220.1875, s. 561.1211, or s. 624.51055.
1. The taxpayer shall specify in the application each tax for which the taxpayer requests a credit and the applicable taxable year for a credit under s. 220.1875 or s. 624.51055 or the applicable state fiscal year for a credit under s. 211.0251, s. 212.1831, or s. 561.1211. The department shall approve tax credits on a first-come, first-served basis and must obtain the division’s approval before approving a tax credit under s. 561.1211.
2. Within 10 days after approving or denying an application, the department shall provide a copy of its approval or denial letter to the eligible nonprofit scholarship-funding organization specified by the taxpayer in the application.
(c) If a tax credit approved under paragraph (b) is not fully used within the specified state fiscal year for credits under s. 211.0251, s. 212.1831, or s. 561.1211 or against taxes due for the specified taxable year for credits under s. 220.1875 or s. 624.51055 because of insufficient tax liability on the part of the taxpayer, the unused amount may be carried forward for a period not to exceed 5 years. However, any taxpayer that seeks to carry forward an unused amount of tax credit must submit an application to the department for approval of the carryforward tax credit in the year that the taxpayer intends to use the carryforward. The department must obtain the division’s approval prior to approving the carryforward of a tax credit under s. 561.1211.
(d) A taxpayer may not convey, assign, or transfer an approved tax credit or a carryforward tax credit to another entity unless all of the assets of the taxpayer are conveyed, assigned, or transferred in the same transaction. However, a tax credit under s. 211.0251, s. 212.1831, s. 220.1875, s. 561.1211, or s. 624.51055 may be conveyed, transferred, or assigned between members of an affiliated group of corporations if the type of tax credit under s. 211.0251, s. 212.1831, s. 220.1875, s. 561.1211, or s. 624.51055 remains the same. A taxpayer shall notify the department of its intent to convey, transfer, or assign a tax credit to another member within an affiliated group of corporations. The amount conveyed, transferred, or assigned is available to another member of the affiliated group of corporations upon approval by the department. The department shall obtain the division’s approval before approving a conveyance, transfer, or assignment of a tax credit under s. 561.1211.
(e) Within any state fiscal year, a taxpayer may rescind all or part of a tax credit approved under paragraph (b). The amount rescinded shall become available for that state fiscal year to another eligible taxpayer as approved by the department if the taxpayer receives notice from the department that the rescindment has been accepted by the department. The department must obtain the division’s approval prior to accepting the rescindment of a tax credit under s. 561.1211. Any amount rescinded under this paragraph shall become available to an eligible taxpayer on a first-come, first-served basis based on tax credit applications received after the date the rescindment is accepted by the department.
(f) Within 10 days after approving or denying an application for a carryforward tax credit under paragraph (c), the conveyance, transfer, or assignment of a tax credit under paragraph (d), or the rescindment of a tax credit under paragraph (e), the department shall provide a copy of its approval or denial letter to the eligible nonprofit scholarship-funding organization specified by the taxpayer. The department shall also include the eligible nonprofit scholarship-funding organization specified by the taxpayer on all letters or correspondence of acknowledgment for tax credits under s. 212.1831.
(g) For purposes of calculating the underpayment of estimated corporate income taxes pursuant to s. 220.34 and tax installment payments for taxes on insurance premiums or assessments under s. 624.5092, the final amount due is the amount after credits earned under s. 220.1875 or s. 624.51055 for contributions to eligible nonprofit scholarship-funding organizations are deducted.
1. For purposes of determining if a penalty or interest shall be imposed for underpayment of estimated corporate income tax pursuant to s. 220.34(2)(d)1., a taxpayer may, after earning a credit under s. 220.1875, reduce the following estimated payment in that taxable year by the amount of the credit. This subparagraph applies to contributions made on or after July 1, 2014.
2. For purposes of determining if a penalty under s. 624.5092 shall be imposed, an insurer may, after earning a credit under s. 624.51055, reduce the following installment payment of 27 percent of the amount of the net tax due as reported on the return for the preceding year under s. 624.5092(2)(b) by the amount of the credit. This subparagraph applies to contributions made on or after July 1, 2014.
(6) OBLIGATIONS OF ELIGIBLE NONPROFIT SCHOLARSHIP-FUNDING ORGANIZATIONS.An eligible nonprofit scholarship-funding organization:
(a) Must comply with the antidiscrimination provisions of 42 U.S.C. s. 2000d.
(b) Must comply with the following background check requirements:
1. All owners and operators as defined in subparagraph (2)(i)1. are, before employment or engagement to provide services, subject to level 2 background screening as provided under chapter 435. The fingerprints for the background screening must be electronically submitted to the Department of Law Enforcement and can be taken by an authorized law enforcement agency or by an employee of the eligible nonprofit scholarship-funding organization or a private company who is trained to take fingerprints. However, the complete set of fingerprints of an owner or operator may not be taken by the owner or operator. The results of the state and national criminal history check shall be provided to the Department of Education for screening under chapter 435. The cost of the background screening may be borne by the eligible nonprofit scholarship-funding organization or the owner or operator.
2. Every 5 years following employment or engagement to provide services or association with an eligible nonprofit scholarship-funding organization, each owner or operator must meet level 2 screening standards as described in s. 435.04, at which time the nonprofit scholarship-funding organization shall request the Department of Law Enforcement to forward the fingerprints to the Federal Bureau of Investigation for level 2 screening. If the fingerprints of an owner or operator are not retained by the Department of Law Enforcement under subparagraph 3., the owner or operator must electronically file a complete set of fingerprints with the Department of Law Enforcement. Upon submission of fingerprints for this purpose, the eligible nonprofit scholarship-funding organization shall request that the Department of Law Enforcement forward the fingerprints to the Federal Bureau of Investigation for level 2 screening, and the fingerprints shall be retained by the Department of Law Enforcement under subparagraph 3.
3. Fingerprints submitted to the Department of Law Enforcement as required by this paragraph must be retained by the Department of Law Enforcement in a manner approved by rule and entered in the statewide automated biometric identification system authorized by s. 943.05(2)(b). The fingerprints must thereafter be available for all purposes and uses authorized for arrest fingerprints entered in the statewide automated biometric identification system pursuant to s. 943.051.
4. The Department of Law Enforcement shall search all arrest fingerprints received under s. 943.051 against the fingerprints retained in the statewide automated biometric identification system under subparagraph 3. Any arrest record that is identified with an owner’s or operator’s fingerprints must be reported to the Department of Education. The Department of Education shall participate in this search process by paying an annual fee to the Department of Law Enforcement and by informing the Department of Law Enforcement of any change in the employment, engagement, or association status of the owners or operators whose fingerprints are retained under subparagraph 3. The Department of Law Enforcement shall adopt a rule setting the amount of the annual fee to be imposed upon the Department of Education for performing these services and establishing the procedures for the retention of owner and operator fingerprints and the dissemination of search results. The fee may be borne by the owner or operator of the nonprofit scholarship-funding organization.
5. A nonprofit scholarship-funding organization whose owner or operator fails the level 2 background screening is not eligible to provide scholarships under this section.
6. A nonprofit scholarship-funding organization whose owner or operator in the last 7 years has filed for personal bankruptcy or corporate bankruptcy in a corporation of which he or she owned more than 20 percent shall not be eligible to provide scholarships under this section.
7. In addition to the offenses listed in s. 435.04, a person required to undergo background screening pursuant to this part or authorizing statutes must not have an arrest awaiting final disposition for, must not have been found guilty of, or entered a plea of nolo contendere to, regardless of adjudication, and must not have been adjudicated delinquent, and the record must not have been sealed or expunged for, any of the following offenses or any similar offense of another jurisdiction:
a. Any authorizing statutes, if the offense was a felony.
b. This chapter, if the offense was a felony.
c. Section 409.920, relating to Medicaid provider fraud.
d. Section 409.9201, relating to Medicaid fraud.
e. Section 741.28, relating to domestic violence.
f. Section 817.034, relating to fraudulent acts through mail, wire, radio, electromagnetic, photoelectronic, or photooptical systems.
g. Section 817.234, relating to false and fraudulent insurance claims.
h. Section 817.505, relating to patient brokering.
i. Section 817.568, relating to criminal use of personal identification information.
j. Section 817.60, relating to obtaining a credit card through fraudulent means.
k. Section 817.61, relating to fraudulent use of credit cards, if the offense was a felony.
l. Section 831.01, relating to forgery.
m. Section 831.02, relating to uttering forged instruments.
n. Section 831.07, relating to forging bank bills, checks, drafts, or promissory notes.
o. Section 831.09, relating to uttering forged bank bills, checks, drafts, or promissory notes.
p. Section 831.30, relating to fraud in obtaining medicinal drugs.
q. Section 831.31, relating to the sale, manufacture, delivery, or possession with the intent to sell, manufacture, or deliver any counterfeit controlled substance, if the offense was a felony.
(c) Must not have an owner or operator who owns or operates an eligible private school that is participating in the scholarship program.
(d) Must provide scholarships, from eligible contributions, to eligible students for the cost of:
1. Tuition and fees for an eligible private school; or
2. Transportation to a Florida public school that is located outside the district in which the student resides or to a lab school as defined in s. 1002.32.
(e) Must give first priority to eligible students who received a scholarship from an eligible nonprofit scholarship-funding organization or from the State of Florida during the previous school year. Beginning in the 2016-2017 school year, an eligible nonprofit scholarship-funding organization shall give priority to new applicants 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.
(f) Must provide a scholarship to an eligible student on a first-come, first-served basis unless the student qualifies for priority pursuant to paragraph (e).
(g) May not restrict or reserve scholarships for use at a particular private school or provide scholarships to a child of an owner or operator.
(h) Must allow a student in foster care or out-of-home care or a dependent child of a parent who is a member of the United States Armed Forces to apply for a scholarship at any time.
(i) Must allow an eligible student to attend any eligible private school and must allow a parent to transfer a scholarship during a school year to any other eligible private school of the parent’s choice.
(j)1. May use up to 3 percent of eligible contributions received during the state fiscal year in which such contributions are collected for administrative expenses if the organization has operated as an eligible nonprofit scholarship-funding organization 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 paragraph (m). Such administrative expenses must be reasonable and necessary for the organization’s management and distribution of eligible contributions under this section. No funds authorized under this subparagraph shall be used for lobbying or political activity or expenses related to lobbying or political activity. Up to one-third of the funds authorized for administrative expenses under this subparagraph may be used for expenses related to the recruitment of contributions from taxpayers. An eligible nonprofit scholarship-funding organization may not charge an application fee.
2. Must expend for annual or partial-year scholarships an amount equal to or greater than 75 percent of the net eligible contributions remaining after administrative expenses during the state fiscal year in which such contributions are collected. No more than 25 percent of such net eligible contributions may be carried forward to the following state fiscal year. All amounts carried forward, for audit purposes, must be specifically identified for particular students, by student name and the name of the school to which the student is admitted, subject to the requirements of ss. 1002.22 and 1002.221 and 20 U.S.C. s. 1232g, and the applicable rules and regulations issued pursuant thereto. Any amounts carried forward shall be expended for annual or partial-year scholarships in the following state fiscal year. Net eligible contributions remaining on June 30 of each year that are in excess of the 25 percent that may be carried forward shall be transferred to other eligible nonprofit scholarship-funding organizations to provide scholarships for eligible students. All transferred funds must be deposited by each eligible nonprofit scholarship-funding organization receiving such funds into its scholarship account. All transferred amounts received by any eligible nonprofit scholarship-funding organization must be separately disclosed in the annual financial audit required under paragraph (m).
3. Must, before granting a scholarship for an academic year, document each scholarship student’s eligibility for that academic year. A scholarship-funding organization may not grant multiyear scholarships in one approval process.
(k) Must maintain separate accounts for scholarship funds and operating funds.
(l) With the prior approval of the Department of Education, may transfer funds to another eligible nonprofit scholarship-funding organization if additional funds are required to meet scholarship demand at the receiving nonprofit scholarship-funding organization. A transfer is limited to the greater of $500,000 or 20 percent of the total contributions received by the nonprofit scholarship-funding organization making the transfer. All transferred funds must be deposited by the receiving nonprofit scholarship-funding organization into its scholarship accounts. All transferred amounts received by any nonprofit scholarship-funding organization must be separately disclosed in the annual financial and compliance audit required in this section.
(m) Must provide to the Auditor General and the Department of Education a report on the results of an annual financial audit of its accounts and records conducted by an independent certified public accountant in accordance with auditing standards generally accepted in the United States, government auditing standards, and rules promulgated by the Auditor General. The audit report must include a report on financial statements presented in accordance with generally accepted accounting principles. Audit reports must be provided to the Auditor General and the Department of Education within 180 days after completion of the eligible nonprofit scholarship-funding organization’s fiscal year. The Auditor General shall review all audit reports submitted pursuant to this paragraph. The Auditor General shall request any significant items that were omitted in violation of a rule adopted by the Auditor General. The items must be provided within 45 days after the date of the request. If the scholarship-funding organization does not comply with the Auditor General’s request, the Auditor General shall notify the Legislative Auditing Committee.
(n) Must prepare and submit quarterly reports to the Department of Education pursuant to paragraph (9)(m). In addition, an eligible nonprofit scholarship-funding organization must submit in a timely manner any information requested by the Department of Education relating to the scholarship program.
(o)1.a. Must participate in the joint development of agreed-upon procedures to be performed by an independent certified public accountant as required under paragraph (8)(e) if the scholarship-funding organization provided more than $250,000 in scholarship funds to an eligible private school under this section during the 2009-2010 state fiscal year. The agreed-upon procedures must uniformly apply to all private schools and must determine, at a minimum, whether the private school has been verified as eligible by the Department of Education under paragraph (9)(c); has an adequate accounting system, system of financial controls, and process for deposit and classification of scholarship funds; and has properly expended scholarship funds for education-related expenses. During the development of the procedures, the participating scholarship-funding organizations shall specify guidelines governing the materiality of exceptions that may be found during the accountant’s performance of the procedures. The procedures and guidelines shall be provided to private schools and the Commissioner of Education by March 15, 2011.
b. Must participate in a joint review of the agreed-upon procedures and guidelines developed under sub-subparagraph a., by February 2013 and biennially thereafter, if the scholarship-funding organization provided more than $250,000 in scholarship funds to an eligible private school under this section during the state fiscal year preceding the biennial review. If the procedures and guidelines are revised, the revisions must be provided to private schools and the Commissioner of Education by March 15, 2013, and biennially thereafter.
c. Must monitor the compliance of a private school with paragraph (8)(e) if the scholarship-funding organization provided the majority of the scholarship funding to the school. For each private school subject to paragraph (8)(e), the appropriate scholarship-funding organization shall notify the Commissioner of Education by October 30, 2011, and annually thereafter of:
(I) A private school’s failure to submit a report required under paragraph (8)(e); or
(II) Any material exceptions set forth in the report required under paragraph (8)(e).
2. Must seek input from the accrediting associations that are members of the Florida Association of Academic Nonpublic Schools when jointly developing the agreed-upon procedures and guidelines under sub-subparagraph 1.a. and conducting a review of those procedures and guidelines under sub-subparagraph 1.b.
(p) Must maintain the surety bond or letter of credit required by subsection (16). The amount of the surety bond or letter of credit may be adjusted quarterly to equal the actual amount of undisbursed funds based upon submission by the organization of a statement from a certified public accountant verifying the amount of undisbursed funds. The requirements of this paragraph are waived if the cost of acquiring a surety bond or letter of credit exceeds the average 10-year cost of acquiring a surety bond or letter of credit by 200 percent. The requirements of this paragraph are waived for a state university; or an independent college or university which is eligible to participate in the William L. Boyd, IV, Florida Resident Access Grant Program, located and chartered in this state, is not for profit, and is accredited by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
(q) Must provide to the Auditor General any information or documentation requested in connection with an operational audit of a scholarship funding organization conducted pursuant to s. 11.45.

Information and documentation provided to the Department of Education and the Auditor General relating to the identity of a taxpayer that provides an eligible contribution under this section shall remain confidential at all times in accordance with s. 213.053.

(7) PARENT AND STUDENT RESPONSIBILITIES FOR PROGRAM PARTICIPATION.
(a) The parent must select an eligible private school and apply for the admission of his or her child.
(b) The parent must inform the child’s school district when the parent withdraws his or her child to attend an eligible private school.
(c) Any student participating in the scholarship program must remain in attendance throughout the school year unless excused by the school for illness or other good cause.
(d) Each parent and each student has an obligation to the private school to comply with the private school’s published policies.
(e) 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 s. 1008.22. If the parent requests that the student participating in the scholarship program take statewide assessments pursuant to s. 1008.22 and the private school has not chosen to offer and administer the statewide assessments, the parent is responsible for transporting the student to the assessment site designated by the school district.
(f) Upon receipt of a scholarship warrant from the eligible nonprofit scholarship-funding organization, the parent to whom the warrant is made must restrictively endorse the warrant to the private school for deposit into the account of the private school. If payments are made by funds transfer, the parent must approve each payment before the scholarship funds may be deposited. 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 or approve a funds transfer. A participant who fails to comply with this paragraph forfeits the scholarship.
(g) The parent shall authorize the nonprofit scholarship-funding organization to access information needed for income eligibility determination and verification held by other state or federal agencies, including the Department of Revenue, the Department of Children and Families, the Department of Education, the Department of Economic Opportunity, and the Agency for Health Care Administration.
(8) PRIVATE SCHOOL ELIGIBILITY AND OBLIGATIONS.An eligible 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 eligible nonprofit scholarship-funding organization, upon request, all documentation required for the student’s participation, including the private school’s and student’s fee schedules.
(c) Be academically accountable to the parent for meeting the educational needs of the student by:
1. At a minimum, annually providing to the parent a written explanation of the student’s progress.
2. Annually administering or making provision for students participating in the scholarship program in grades 3 through 10 to take one of the nationally norm-referenced tests identified by the Department of Education or 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 must report a student’s scores to the parent. A participating private school must annually report by August 15 the scores of all participating students to the Learning System Institute described in paragraph (9)(j).
3. Cooperating with the scholarship student whose parent chooses to have the student participate in the statewide assessments pursuant to s. 1008.22 or, if a private school chooses to offer the statewide assessments, administering the assessments at the school.
a. 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.
b. A participating private school must submit a request in writing to the Department of Education by March 1 of each year in order to administer the statewide assessments in the subsequent school year.
(d) Employ or contract with teachers who have regular and direct contact with each student receiving a scholarship under this section at the school’s physical location.
(e) Provide a report from an independent certified public accountant who performs the agreed-upon procedures developed under paragraph (6)(o) if the private school receives more than $250,000 in funds from scholarships awarded under this section in a state fiscal year. A private school subject to this paragraph must annually submit the report by September 15 to the scholarship-funding organization that awarded the majority of the school’s scholarship funds. The agreed-upon procedures must be conducted in accordance with attestation standards established by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants.

If a private school is unable to meet the requirements of this subsection or has consecutive years of material exceptions listed in the report required under paragraph (e), the commissioner may determine that the private school is ineligible to participate in the scholarship program as determined by the Department of Education.

(9) DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION OBLIGATIONS.The Department of Education shall:
(a) Annually submit to the department and division, by March 15, a list of eligible nonprofit scholarship-funding organizations that meet the requirements of paragraph (2)(f).
(b) Annually verify the eligibility of nonprofit scholarship-funding organizations that meet the requirements of paragraph (2)(f).
(c) Annually verify the eligibility of private schools that meet the requirements of subsection (8).
(d) Annually verify the eligibility of expenditures as provided in paragraph (6)(d) using the audit required by paragraph (6)(m) and s. 11.45(2)(k).
(e) Establish a toll-free hotline that provides parents and private schools with information on participation in the scholarship program.
(f) Establish a process by which individuals may notify the Department of Education of any violation by a parent, private school, or school district of state laws relating to program participation. The Department of Education shall conduct an inquiry of any written complaint of a violation of this section, or make a referral to the appropriate agency for an investigation, if the complaint is signed by the complainant and is legally sufficient. A complaint is legally sufficient if it contains ultimate facts that show that a violation of this section or any rule adopted by the State Board of Education has occurred. In order to determine legal sufficiency, the Department of Education may require supporting information or documentation from the complainant. A department inquiry is not subject to the requirements of chapter 120.
(g) Require an annual, notarized, sworn compliance statement by participating private schools certifying compliance with state laws and shall retain such records.
(h) Cross-check the list of participating scholarship students with the public school enrollment lists to avoid duplication.
(i) Maintain a list of nationally norm-referenced tests identified for purposes of satisfying the testing requirement in subparagraph (8)(c)2. The tests must meet industry standards of quality in accordance with State Board of Education rule.
(j) Issue a project grant award to the Learning System Institute at the Florida State University, to which participating private schools must report the scores of participating students on the nationally norm-referenced tests or the statewide assessments administered by the private school in grades 3 through 10. The project term is 2 years, and the amount of the project is up to $500,000 per year. The project grant award must be reissued in 2-year intervals in accordance with this paragraph.
1. The Learning System Institute must annually report to the Department of Education on the student performance of participating students:
a. On a statewide basis. The report shall also include, to the extent possible, a comparison of scholarship students’ performance to the statewide student performance of public school students with socioeconomic backgrounds similar to those of students participating in the scholarship program. To minimize costs and reduce time required for the Learning System Institute’s analysis and evaluation, the Department of Education shall coordinate with the Learning System Institute to provide data to the Learning System Institute in order to conduct analyses of matched students from public school assessment data and calculate control group student performance using an agreed-upon methodology with the Learning System Institute; and
b. On an individual school basis. The annual report must include student performance for each participating private school in which at least 51 percent of the total enrolled students in the private school participated in the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program in the prior school year. The report shall be according to each participating private school, and for participating students, in which there are at least 30 participating students who have scores for tests administered. If the Learning System Institute determines that the 30-participating-student cell size may be reduced without disclosing personally identifiable information, as described in 34 C.F.R. s. 99.12, of a participating student, the Learning System Institute may reduce the participating-student cell size, but the cell size must not be reduced to less than 10 participating students. The department shall provide each private school’s prior school year’s student enrollment information to the Learning System Institute no later than June 15 of each year, or as requested by the Learning System Institute.
2. The sharing and reporting of student performance data under this paragraph must be in accordance with requirements of ss. 1002.22 and 1002.221 and 20 U.S.C. s. 1232g, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, and the applicable rules and regulations issued pursuant thereto, and shall be for the sole purpose of creating the annual report required by subparagraph 1. All parties must preserve the confidentiality of such information as required by law. The annual report must not disaggregate data to a level that will identify individual participating schools, except as required under sub-subparagraph 1.b., or disclose the academic level of individual students.
3. The annual report required by subparagraph 1. shall be published by the Department of Education on its website.
(k) Notify an eligible nonprofit scholarship-funding organization of any of the organization’s identified students who are receiving educational scholarships pursuant to chapter 1002.
(l) Notify an eligible nonprofit scholarship-funding organization of any of the organization’s identified students who are receiving tax credit scholarships from other eligible nonprofit scholarship-funding organizations.
(m) Require quarterly reports by an eligible nonprofit scholarship-funding organization regarding the number of students participating in the scholarship program, the private schools at which the students are enrolled, and other information deemed necessary by the Department of Education.
(n)1. Conduct site visits to private schools participating in the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program. The purpose of the site visits is solely to verify the information reported by the schools concerning the enrollment and attendance of students, the credentials of teachers, background screening of teachers, and teachers’ fingerprinting results. The Department of Education may not make more than seven site visits each year; however, the department may make additional site visits at any time to any school that has received a notice of noncompliance or a notice of proposed action within the previous 2 years.
2. Annually, by December 15, report to the Governor, the President of the Senate, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives the Department of Education’s actions with respect to implementing accountability in the scholarship program under this section and s. 1002.421, any substantiated allegations or violations of law or rule by an eligible private school under this program concerning the enrollment and attendance of students, the credentials of teachers, background screening of teachers, and teachers’ fingerprinting results and the corrective action taken by the Department of Education.
(o) Provide a process to match the direct certification list with the scholarship application data submitted by any nonprofit scholarship-funding organization eligible to receive the 3-percent administrative allowance under paragraph (6)(j).
(p) Upon the request of a participating private school, provide at no cost to the school the statewide assessments administered under s. 1008.22 and any related materials for administering the assessments. Students at a private school may be assessed using the statewide assessments if the addition of those students and the school does not cause the state to exceed its contractual caps for the number of students tested and the number of testing sites. The state shall provide the same materials and support to a private school that it provides to a public school. A private school that chooses to administer statewide assessments under s. 1008.22 shall follow the requirements set forth in ss. 1008.22 and 1008.24, rules adopted by the State Board of Education to implement those sections, and district-level testing policies established by the district school board.
(10) SCHOOL DISTRICT OBLIGATIONS; PARENTAL OPTIONS.
(a) Upon the request of any eligible nonprofit scholarship-funding organization, 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 for a tax credit scholarship. The form of such notice shall be provided by the eligible nonprofit scholarship-funding organization, and the district shall include the provided form, if requested by the organization, in any normal correspondence with eligible households. If an eligible nonprofit scholarship-funding organization requests a special communication to be issued to households within the district receiving free or reduced-price meals under the National School Lunch Act, the organization shall reimburse the district for the cost of postage. Such notice is limited to once a year.
(b) Upon the request of the Department of Education, 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. 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.
(11) COMMISSIONER OF EDUCATION AUTHORITY AND OBLIGATIONS.
(a)1. The Commissioner of Education shall deny, suspend, or revoke a private school’s participation in the scholarship program if it is determined that the private school has failed to comply with the provisions of this section. However, in instances in which the noncompliance is correctable within a reasonable amount of time and in which the health, safety, or welfare of the students is not threatened, the commissioner may issue a notice of noncompliance that shall provide the private school with a timeframe within which to provide evidence of compliance prior to taking action to suspend or revoke the private school’s participation in the scholarship program.
2. The Commissioner of Education may deny, suspend, or revoke a private school’s participation in the scholarship program if the commissioner determines that:
a. An owner or operator of a private school has exhibited a previous pattern of failure to comply with this section or s. 1002.421; or
b. An owner or operator of the private school is operating or has operated an educational institution in this state or another state or jurisdiction in a manner contrary to the health, safety, or welfare of the public.

In making the determination under this subparagraph, the commissioner may consider factors that include, but are not limited to, acts or omissions by an owner or operator that led to a previous denial or revocation of participation in an education scholarship program; an owner’s or operator’s failure to reimburse the Department of Education or a nonprofit scholarship-funding organization for scholarship funds improperly received or retained by a school; imposition of a prior criminal sanction, civil fine, administrative fine, license revocation or suspension, or program eligibility suspension, termination, or revocation related to an owner’s or operator’s management or operation of an educational institution; or other types of criminal proceedings in which the owner or operator was found guilty of, regardless of adjudication, or entered a plea of nolo contendere or guilty to, any offense involving fraud, deceit, dishonesty, or moral turpitude.

(b) The commissioner’s determination is subject to the following:
1. If the commissioner intends to deny, suspend, or revoke a private school’s participation in the scholarship program, the Department of Education shall notify the private school of such proposed action in writing by certified mail and regular mail to the private school’s address of record with the Department of Education. The notification shall include the reasons for the proposed action and notice of the timelines and procedures set forth in this paragraph.
2. The private school that is adversely affected by the proposed action shall have 15 days from receipt of the notice of proposed action to file with the Department of Education’s agency clerk a request for a proceeding pursuant to ss. 120.569 and 120.57. If the private school is entitled to a hearing under s. 120.57(1), the Department of Education shall forward the request to the Division of Administrative Hearings.
3. Upon receipt of a request referred pursuant to this paragraph, the director of the Division of Administrative Hearings shall expedite the hearing and assign an administrative law judge who shall commence a hearing within 30 days after the receipt of the formal written request by the division and enter a recommended order within 30 days after the hearing or within 30 days after receipt of the hearing transcript, whichever is later. Each party shall be allowed 10 days in which to submit written exceptions to the recommended order. A final order shall be entered by the agency within 30 days after the entry of a recommended order. The provisions of this subparagraph may be waived upon stipulation by all parties.
(c) The commissioner may immediately suspend payment of scholarship funds if it is determined that there is probable cause to believe that there is:
1. An imminent threat to the health, safety, and welfare of the students;
2. A previous pattern of failure to comply with this section or s. 1002.421; or
3. Fraudulent activity on the part of the private school. Notwithstanding s. 1002.22, in incidents of alleged fraudulent activity pursuant to this section, the Department of Education’s Office of Inspector General is authorized to release personally identifiable records or reports of students to the following persons or organizations:
a. A court of competent jurisdiction in compliance with an order of that court or the attorney of record in accordance with a lawfully issued subpoena, consistent with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, 20 U.S.C. s. 1232g.
b. A person or entity authorized by a court of competent jurisdiction in compliance with an order of that court or the attorney of record pursuant to a lawfully issued subpoena, consistent with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, 20 U.S.C. s. 1232g.
c. Any person, entity, or authority issuing a subpoena for law enforcement purposes when the court or other issuing agency has ordered that the existence or the contents of the subpoena or the information furnished in response to the subpoena not be disclosed, consistent with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, 20 U.S.C. s. 1232g, and 34 C.F.R. s. 99.31.

The commissioner’s order suspending payment pursuant to this paragraph may be appealed pursuant to the same procedures and timelines as the notice of proposed action set forth in paragraph (b).

(12) SCHOLARSHIP AMOUNT AND PAYMENT.
(a) Except as provided in subparagraph 2., the scholarship amount provided to any student for any single school year by an eligible nonprofit scholarship-funding organization from eligible contributions shall be for total costs authorized under paragraph (6)(d), not to exceed annual limits, which shall be determined as follows:
1.a. The base amount awarded to a student enrolled in an eligible private school shall be determined as a percentage of the unweighted FTE funding amount for that state fiscal year and thereafter as follows:
(I) Eighty-eight percent for a student enrolled in kindergarten through grade 5.
(II) Ninety-two percent for a student enrolled in grade 6 through grade 8.
(III) Ninety-six percent for a student enrolled in grade 9 through grade 12.
b. The scholarship amount awarded to a student enrolled in a Florida public school that is located outside the district in which the student resides or in a lab school as defined in s. 1002.32, is limited to $750.
2. The annual limit for a scholarship under sub-subparagraph 1.a. shall be reduced by:
a. Twelve percent if the student’s household income level is greater than or equal to 200 percent, but less than 215 percent, of the federal poverty level.
b. Twenty-six percent if the student’s household income level is greater than or equal to 215 percent, but less than 230 percent, of the federal poverty level.
c. Forty percent if the student’s household income level is greater than or equal to 230 percent, but less than 245 percent, of the federal poverty level.
d. Fifty percent if the student’s household income level is greater than or equal to 245 percent, but less than or equal to 260 percent, of the federal poverty level.
(b) Payment of the scholarship by the eligible nonprofit scholarship-funding organization shall be by individual warrant made payable to the student’s parent or 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. If the payment is made by warrant, the warrant must be delivered by the eligible nonprofit scholarship-funding organization to the private school of the parent’s choice, and the parent shall restrictively endorse the warrant to the private school. An eligible nonprofit scholarship-funding organization shall ensure that the parent to whom the warrant is made restrictively endorsed the warrant to the private school for deposit into the account of the private school or that the parent has approved a funds transfer before any scholarship funds are deposited.
(c) An eligible nonprofit scholarship-funding organization shall obtain verification from the private school of a student’s continued attendance at the school for each period covered by a scholarship payment.
(d) Payment of the scholarship shall be made by the eligible nonprofit scholarship-funding organization no less frequently than on a quarterly basis.
(13) ADMINISTRATION; RULES.
(a) The department, the division, and the Department of Education shall develop a cooperative agreement to assist in the administration of this section.
(b) The department shall adopt rules necessary to administer this section and ss. 211.0251, 212.1831, 220.1875, 561.1211, and 624.51055, including rules establishing application forms, procedures governing the approval of tax credits and carryforward tax credits under subsection (5), and procedures to be followed by taxpayers when claiming approved tax credits on their returns.
(c) The division shall adopt rules necessary to administer its responsibilities under this section and s. 561.1211.
(d) The State Board of Education shall adopt rules to administer the responsibilities of the Department of Education and the Commissioner of Education under this section.
(14) DEPOSITS OF ELIGIBLE CONTRIBUTIONS.All eligible contributions received by an eligible nonprofit scholarship-funding organization shall be deposited in a manner consistent with s. 17.57(2).
(15) PRESERVATION OF CREDIT.If any provision or portion of this section, s. 211.0251, s. 212.1831, s. 220.1875, s. 561.1211, or s. 624.51055 or the application thereof to any person or circumstance is held unconstitutional by any court or is otherwise declared invalid, the unconstitutionality or invalidity shall not affect any credit earned under s. 211.0251, s. 212.1831, s. 220.1875, s. 561.1211, or s. 624.51055 by any taxpayer with respect to any contribution paid to an eligible nonprofit scholarship-funding organization before the date of a determination of unconstitutionality or invalidity. Such credit shall be allowed at such time and in such a manner as if a determination of unconstitutionality or invalidity had not been made, provided that nothing in this subsection by itself or in combination with any other provision of law shall result in the allowance of any credit to any taxpayer in excess of one dollar of credit for each dollar paid to an eligible nonprofit scholarship-funding organization.
(16) NONPROFIT SCHOLARSHIP-FUNDING ORGANIZATIONS; APPLICATION.In order to participate in the scholarship program created under this section, a charitable organization that seeks to be a nonprofit scholarship-funding organization must submit an application for initial approval or renewal to the Office of Independent Education and Parental Choice no later than September 1 of each year before the school year for which the organization intends to offer scholarships.
(a) An application for initial approval must include:
1. A copy of the organization’s incorporation documents and registration with the Division of Corporations of the Department of State.
2. A copy of the organization’s Internal Revenue Service determination letter as a s. 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization.
3. A description of the organization’s financial plan that demonstrates sufficient funds to operate throughout the school year.
4. A description of the geographic region that the organization intends to serve and an analysis of the demand and unmet need for eligible students in that area.
5. The organization’s organizational chart.
6. A description of the criteria and methodology that the organization will use to evaluate scholarship eligibility.
7. A description of the application process, including deadlines and any associated fees.
8. A description of the deadlines for attendance verification and scholarship payments.
9. A copy of the organization’s policies on conflict of interest and whistleblowers.
10. A copy of a surety bond or letter of credit to secure the faithful performance of the obligations of the eligible nonprofit scholarship-funding organization in accordance with this section in an amount equal to 25 percent of the scholarship funds anticipated for each school year or $100,000, whichever is greater. The surety bond or letter of credit must specify that any claim against the bond or letter of credit may be made only by an eligible nonprofit scholarship-funding organization to provide scholarships to and on behalf of students who would have had scholarships funded if it were not for the diversion of funds giving rise to the claim against the bond or letter of credit.
(b) In addition to the information required by subparagraphs (a)1.-9., an application for renewal must include:
1. A surety bond or letter of credit to secure the faithful performance of the obligations of the eligible nonprofit scholarship-funding organization in accordance with this section equal to the amount of undisbursed donations held by the organization based on the annual report submitted pursuant to paragraph (6)(m). The amount of the surety bond or letter of credit must be at least $100,000, but not more than $25 million. The surety bond or letter of credit must specify that any claim against the bond or letter of credit may be made only by an eligible nonprofit scholarship-funding organization to provide scholarships to and on behalf of students who would have had scholarships funded if it were not for the diversion of funds giving rise to the claim against the bond or letter of credit.
2. The organization’s completed Internal Revenue Service Form 990 submitted no later than November 30 of the year before the school year that the organization intends to offer the scholarships, notwithstanding the September 1 application deadline.
3. A copy of the statutorily required audit to the Department of Education and Auditor General.
4. An annual report that includes:
a. The number of students who completed applications, by county and by grade.
b. The number of students who were approved for scholarships, by county and by grade.
c. The number of students who received funding for scholarships within each funding category, by county and by grade.
d. The amount of funds received, the amount of funds distributed in scholarships, and an accounting of remaining funds and the obligation of those funds.
e. A detailed accounting of how the organization spent the administrative funds allowable under paragraph (6)(j).
(c) In consultation with the Department of Revenue and the Chief Financial Officer, the Office of Independent Education and Parental Choice shall review the application. The Department of Education shall notify the organization in writing of any deficiencies within 30 days after receipt of the application and allow the organization 30 days to correct any deficiencies.
(d) Within 30 days after receipt of the finalized application by the Office of Independent Education and Parental Choice, the Commissioner of Education shall recommend approval or disapproval of the application to the State Board of Education. The State Board of Education shall consider the application and recommendation at the next scheduled meeting, adhering to appropriate meeting notice requirements. If the State Board of Education disapproves the organization’s application, it shall provide the organization with a written explanation of that determination. The State Board of Education’s action is not subject to chapter 120.
(e) If the State Board of Education disapproves the renewal of a nonprofit scholarship-funding organization, the organization must notify the affected eligible students and parents of the decision within 15 days after disapproval. An eligible student affected by the disapproval of an organization’s participation remains eligible under this section until the end of the school year in which the organization was disapproved. The student must apply and be accepted by another eligible nonprofit scholarship-funding organization for the upcoming school year. The student shall be given priority in accordance with paragraph (6)(f).
(f) All remaining funds held by a nonprofit scholarship-funding organization that is disapproved for participation must be transferred to other eligible nonprofit scholarship-funding organizations to provide scholarships for eligible students. All transferred funds must be deposited by each eligible nonprofit scholarship-funding organization receiving such funds into its scholarship account. All transferred amounts received by any eligible nonprofit scholarship-funding organization must be separately disclosed in the annual financial audit required under subsection (6).
(g) A nonprofit scholarship-funding organization is a renewing organization if it maintains continuous approval and participation in the program. An organization that chooses not to participate for 1 year or more or is disapproved to participate for 1 year or more must submit an application for initial approval in order to participate in the program again.
(h) The State Board of Education shall adopt rules providing guidelines for receiving, reviewing, and approving applications for new and renewing nonprofit scholarship-funding organizations. The rules must include a process for compiling input and recommendations from the Chief Financial Officer, the Department of Revenue, and the Department of Education. The rules must also require that the nonprofit scholarship-funding organization make a brief presentation to assist the State Board of Education in its decision.
(i) A state university; or an independent college or university which is eligible to participate in the William L. Boyd, IV, Florida Resident Access Grant Program, located and chartered in this state, is not for profit, and is accredited by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, is exempt from the initial or renewal application process, but must file a registration notice with the Department of Education to be an eligible nonprofit scholarship-funding organization. The State Board of Education shall adopt rules that identify the procedure for filing the registration notice with the department. The rules must identify appropriate reporting requirements for fiscal, programmatic, and performance accountability purposes consistent with this section, but shall not exceed the requirements for eligible nonprofit scholarship-funding organizations for charitable organizations. A nonprofit scholarship-funding organization that becomes eligible pursuant to this paragraph may begin providing scholarships to participating students in the 2015-2016 school year.
History.s. 5, ch. 2001-225; s. 42, ch. 2002-218; s. 258, ch. 2003-261; s. 9, ch. 2003-391; s. 16, ch. 2004-5; s. 2, ch. 2006-75; s. 2, ch. 2008-142; s. 2, ch. 2008-235; s. 1, ch. 2008-241; s. 2, ch. 2009-108; s. 4, ch. 2009-239; s. 1, ch. 2010-24; s. 4, ch. 2010-209; s. 3, ch. 2011-123; s. 1, ch. 2012-22; s. 67, ch. 2013-116; s. 364, ch. 2014-19; s. 17, ch. 2014-184; s. 106, ch. 2015-2; s. 37, ch. 2015-148; ss. 6, 9, ch. 2015-222; s. 6, ch. 2016-2; s. 2, ch. 2017-166.
Note.Former s. 220.187.