More Palm Beach County private schools waiting on state funding
One week after WFLX uncovered a Palm Beach County private school for kids with special needs did not receive its state funding for student scholarships fast enough, another Palm Beach County private school has come forward with a similar story.
The schools are now all banding together to work with the state to make sure they get the money they need to function and keep their doors open.
Nancy Harvey is the head of school and owner at the Harvey Academy in Tequesta. Everything at the Harvey Academy is done with intention, from the floors, to the light blue walls and the natural light coming in. It’s all to make the students feel comfortable and safe.
"It's my life's work," Harvey said.
Her school caters to students with dyslexia, ADHD, and other learning disabilities. The school has 56 third through 12th graders and more than half of them are on state scholarships that help pay their tuition.
"This is the first year that I've really struggled with the miscommunication, lack of communication with Step Up," Harvey said. "I don't think the people I speak to are wonderful, I don't think it's their fault, they're just overwhelmed."
Step Up for Students is the organization contracted with the state of Florida to distribute the scholarship money. This year, they launched a new platform to manage the scholarships, and state law with HB 1 removed the income cap allowing thousands more students to participate in the voucher program.
"It's like a perfect storm, they are getting it from both sides and they are just overwhelmed and I feel for them," Harvey said. "But I also feel for my fellow heads of school that can't make payroll and can't pay their rent. I'm lucky I can, but not forever."
Right now, she has received $1,900 of the $89,000 she is owed in first quarter payments. She's made payroll and other payments from her own pocket.
"My personal funds, because I have faith the money will come, the DOE will pay, Step Up will pay," she said. "I just need to be able to carry the school until they do and I'm lucky that I can, but I can't do it forever."
Last week, Mary Jo Walsh, owner at Mountaineer’s School of Autism in West Palm Beach told WFLX about not receiving her school’s scholarship funds to the tune of $100,000. She then created the Florida Coalition of Private Schools, hosting a zoom meeting with dozens of other school leaders and learning they’re not alone.
"It was a tremendous relief to know I can speak to someone else, that I can speak to someone else in my situation, because until then, I knew no one else in my situation," Harvey said.
Walsh said she has now received a fraction of her money. While it is not the full amount she's owed for the first quarter, it is enough to pay her mortgage and make payroll. She said she and other coalition members met with leaders from Step Up for Students on Friday to talk about how they can work together and resolve these issues. They talked about changes to state legislation to help the process, and how the coalition can work with the state to help the current situation.
Harvey said that is exactly what is needed.
"We need to come together. The DOE, Step Up and these heads of school, we are all on the same team to serve these children," she said. "We just need to communicate more effectively."
The coalition of more than 100 private school leaders plan to meet again at the end of the week to see where they all stand with their funding.
A spokesperson for Step Up for Students sent WPTV the following explanation for how payments have been made:
Out of the more than 79,000 students who have been awarded Family Empowerment Scholarships for Students with Unique Abilities (FES-UA) by Step Up For Students, more than 68,000 (86%) have been funded so far. Of those 68,000 funded FES-UA students, about 33,000 are enrolled in private schools; those not enrolled in schools already have access to their funds. The funds for enrolled students are deposited into students' accounts, then schools must invoice us for their tuition.
The remaining FES-UA students should have funds in their accounts this week. Schools can then invoice Step Up and Step Up can make the payments by the end of the following week for those invoiced this week.
Schools began on 9/14 invoicing Step Up on FES-UA and Family Empowerment Scholarship for Educational Options (FES-EO) students. Step Up has processed 69% of the FES-UA invoices received through 9/17. We have not processed those received 9/18-9/24. We are processing those this week.
Most of those FES-UA invoices not processed that were received through 9/17 -- about 7,500 -- have some sort of issue preventing payment at the time. Step Up is currently working to resolve those issues.
Roughly 95% of Florida Tax Credit Scholarship (FTC) students have received funds in their accounts and schools that have properly invoiced them should have most of their funds this week—many already have. The remaining 5% of FTC students will receive funds in their accounts this week and Step Up can pay schools after they are properly invoiced.
Roughly 26% of Family Empowerment Scholarship for Educational Options (FES-EO) students have received funds in their account and approximately 70% of those students have been invoiced by their schools; 55% of those students who have been invoiced properly by their schools should have their funds this week. Payments for most of the remaining 45% of those funded students should be paid by early next week. The remaining students should have funds in their accounts this week, and then Step Up can pay schools after they are properly invoiced.
FES-UA student accounts this year were funded two weeks later than last year -- we funded them 8/29 last year and 9/13 this year. By this time last year we had paid tuition for 23,000 UA students and we've paid 18,000 so far this year, so we're not that far behind.
Scripps Only Content 2023