Posted: May 22, 2019
Step Up For Students Comes to Key West

Imagine the entire business sector of Key West creating HUNDREDS of scholarships for very low income K-12 students. Imagine the business community joining to convert the Florida 5.7% Sales and Use Tax on their commercial leases into student scholarships.  Imagine the business community taking 20 minutes to fill out an online form that's more simple than Amazon Prime. Imagine these actions at NO COST to property or business owners.  Imagine a non-profit scholarship funding organization whose mission is to convert these re-directed taxes into scholarships for THOUSANDS of disadvantaged Florida students. Imagine the gift of a life-changing education.  Imagine Step Up For Students.


Step Up For Students is a state-approved nonprofit scholarship funding organization that helps administer four scholarships for Florida schoolchildren:

  1. The Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program (FTC) for use by lower-income students to attend private schools,
  2. The Gardiner Scholarship for children with certain special needs (physical or mental) for use at private or public schools,
  3. The Hope Scholarship for public school students who are bullied or experience school violence, and
  4. The Reading Scholarship Accounts for public school students in third through fifth grade who struggle with reading.


In Key West, one hundred and fourteen K-12 students are receiving these scholarships from Step Up For Students as they attend The Basilica School at St. Mary's, the Montessori Children's School and the Grace Lutheran School. One hundred and fourteen is approximately 25% of the students who attend these three schools!



On May 21 and 22, the Step Up For Students Vice President for Business Development, Anne Francis and Business Development Officer, Wendy Woolley, addressed the Key West business community about how they, we, can create FTC scholarships by redirecting the Florida Sales and Use Tax on commercial leases to Step Up for Students - instead of the present destination, that being the General Fund for the Florida Department of Revenue.


The Step Up For Students team came to Key West in response to the interest generated by a September 1, 2018 Letter to the Editor in the Key West Citizen newspaper which was prompted by this article.  The article described the then new 2018 Florida Law authorizing the redirection of the Sales and Use Tax to scholarship funding organizations like Step Up For Students and the simple, NO COST process for the redirection.

On May 21 the Step Up team of Francis and Woolley addressed a combined audience at the Key West City Hall.  The audience was comprised of those businesses that lease property from the City of Key West as well as members of the Key West Chamber of Commerce.


The City of Key West was represented by Mark Finigan, Finance Director.

The Chamber of Commerce was represented by Virginia Panico, Executive Vice President.



On May 22 the Step Up team provided two presentations.  The morning presentation was to Brokers, Realtors and Affiliate members of the Key West Association of Realtors (KWAR) during KWAR's monthly General Membership Meeting and luncheon.  The afternoon presentation was to the administrators and business owner/parents of students at the three schools which have students attending under a Step Up For Students scholarship.  The meeting took place at Basilica of St. Mary's School.


The Key West Association of Realtors is lead by Darla Guevremont, CEO.

The meeting of the schools was chaired by Robert Wright, Principal, The Basilica School at St. Mary's. Montessori Children's School was represented by Board member Alma Armendariz.  Grace Lutheran was represented by Carly Lyons, Principal.

How Simple Is It?

The process to apply for credits and make payments is simple:


  1. Fill out the online application, including the Name of Eligible Non-Profit Funding Organization and Planned Contribution Amount.  This dollar ($) amount can be up to 100% of your projected annual tax due. (For instance. A $10000 per month lease x 12 = $120,000 per year. The annual 5.7% Sales and Use Tax would be $6840)
  2. Upon completion of the online form, the Florida Department of Revenue will send a letter to you authorizing the dollar amount you can contribute to the nonprofit-funding organization.
  3. When the tax is due, the renter sends the tax dollar amount ($6840/12 = $570) directly to Step Up For Students.
  4. Step Up For Students sends a letter back to the renter (and owner if so arranged) acknowledging receipt of payment.
  5. The renter gives a copy of the receipt of payment letter from Step Up For Sudents to the property owner.
  6. The property owner submits that receipt to the State when they submit their taxes.


The average annual cost to send a K-12 student on a Florida Tax Credit Scholarship to a Step Up For Students approved school in Key West is $6300 - $6700 (depending on the grade).



Florida created the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship (FTC) in 2001 to give low-income students a private school learning option that is not otherwise available to them because of their financial circumstances.


A first-of-its-kind study on the long-term effects of the FTC scholarship program by the Urban Institute found that FTC scholarship students are up to 43 percent more likely to go to college and up to 29 percent more likely to earn an associate's degree than their peers. Proof positive!


The process to fund a Step Up For Students scholarship is simple, voluntary and free.  Businesses that redirect their Sales and Use Tax receive full payment credit from the Department of Revenue. Students who receive these scholarships receive a life-changing education and an unforgettable boost into adulthood.


Imagine. Everyone is a Winner!


If you have any comments or questions, please contact me here.


Good luck!


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