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Enrollment climbs for tax-credit scholarships

Nearly 100,000 Florida students receive education aid from Step Up for Students

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Almost 100,000 Florida students are now receiving education aid from the main organization offering voucher-like awards.

The group Step Up for Students said 92,011 students enrolled in private schools this academic year using the state's tax-credit scholarships. The organization said that marks an increase of 13,347 students from the year before, the largest one-year boost to the program's rolls ever.

Under the tax-credit scholarship program, corporations contribute to organizations that provide scholarships to students, and the state provides tax credits in return.

Another 5,844 students are receiving "Gardiner scholarships," which provide state money to parents of children with disabilities to help meet educational needs.

Some of the increases came from implementing changes adopted in 2014 to the eligibility rules for the tax-credit program. More students are eligible for full scholarships, and families with incomes up to 260 percent of the federal poverty level --- or $63,310 for a family of four --- can receive partial awards.

But Step Up for Students said those changes affected just 1,896 of the students awarded scholarships.

"Florida is a national leader in expanding educational opportunity, and the latest numbers again show that parents appreciate the power to access additional options that can best serve their children," said Doug Tuthill, president of Step Up For Students.

The A.A.A. Scholarship Foundation, which generally serves a much smaller group of students, hasn't released enrollment figures.

A total of $559 million in fundraising is allowed for the tax-credit scholarships, with corporations who give being allowed to take the same amount off their tax bills.

Lawmakers set aside $71.2 million for the Gardiner scholarships, named after outgoing Senate President Andy Gardiner, an Orlando Republican who spearheaded the push for the program.