Journalist turned Step Up for Students (SUFS) executive Ron Matus is touting that they already have “started” applications for over 100,000 students for Florida’s tax credit scholarship voucher system. Some sketchy counting got them in hot water during the last legislative session, and they probably won’t be making the same mistake again anytime soon. Still, it’s not clear what Matus mean by “started.”
Recent passage of SB 85o assures that Matus gets to keep his job. And Floridians were told that Step Up for Students would be prohibited from using money they received from tax credits for “lobbying and political activity.” Writes Kathleen McGrory in the Miami Herald:
The bill that passed Friday (SB 850) would expand Florida’s Tax Credit Scholarship Program, which provides private-school scholarships to children from low-income families.
It would not raise the cap on the number of corporate income tax credits available to businesses that help fund the scholarships or allow donors to receive sales tax credits. But it would allow more students to take part in the program by creating partial scholarships for children from higher-income families, and removing some of the barriers to participating.
The proposal would also place new restrictions on Step Up for Students, the non-profit that manages the voucher program. Step Up for Students would be required to undergo an annual audit from the state Auditor General and would be prohibited from using state dollars for lobbying or political purposes.
Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, said the provision was important because Step Up for Students representatives had spoken publicly about the influence they yield in the Capitol.
“I don’t think you should use the money that is meant for and is described as scholarships for low-income kids to pay lobbyists and [engage in] political activity,” Gaetz said.
One wonders if Gaetz actually read SB 850. Here is the provision in the legislation which addresses what scholarship funding organizations (SFO’s) like SUFS can do with taxpayer money:
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 under this section for at least 3 state fiscal years and did not have any negative financial
findings in its most recent audit under paragraph (m) (l). 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 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.
In one sentence the legislation indicates that SUFS cannot use tax credit scholarship money for lobbying and political activities while in the very next sentence, it essentially says that they can.
The sentence which includes “lobbying or political activity or expenses related to lobbying or political activity,” was not in Sen. Bill Galvano’s (R-Bradenton) original senate bill on voucher expansion which he pulled in March. It is meaningless and toothless with the sentence embolden above still in the bill. Nothing in the the voucher expansion bill that Rick Scott is expected to sign addresses what SUFS must consider as “expenses related to the recruitment of contributions from taxpayers.”
So how much is one-third of three percent of tax credit scholarship receipts? With this year’s funding cap set at $358 million, SUFS is allowed $10,740,000 for administration. You can expect them to spend every penny of the one-third or $3 million on “expenses related to recruitment of contributions of contributions from taxpayers.”