Have no FEAR!
This Spring, the education landscape in Florida has had some new foliages added to the learning garden and the community has been a BUZZ. What does this mean? Is this good for homeschoolers? Tutors? Schools? Is this a bait and switch? There’s no such thing as “free money” right?! Are legislatures luring us into shackles?! What about the Freedom to home educate?
I get it, folks. As Floridians we have enjoyed some of the best home education freedoms in the Nation and we do not want to upset the apple cart. Many of us “dyed in the wool” homeschoolers have a strong defensive instinct when it comes to protecting our kids and our communities. It’s natural to be skeptical when new law is introduced and a new “plan” is put in place. Honestly, it’s good stewardship—so if you have been running the opposite direction from P.E.P, I don’t blame you one bit. BUT… a little bit of faith is required in this situation and the person we need to put the faith in is NOT our government, not the businesses that are contributing to the STEP-UP scholarship fund that gives the monies to the scholarship recipients, and not in our own experiences. The person we need to put faith in is our own Home Education lobbyist and Home Education Foundation co-founder Ms. Brenda Dickinson.
As a lobbyist Brenda is a watchdog for our interests and protector of our rights at the Capitol. When HB. 1 was introduced, Brenda immediately flagged it as a potential risk to Home Schoolers and worked tirelessly to change the wording and create and entirely new track that is SEPARATE AND APART from our current (and still in place!) Homeschool Laws. I repeat—Home Education Law has not changed at all in Florida. What has happened is actually and ADDITIONAL education option called the Personal Education Plan or P.E.P.
Why all of the talk among homeschoolers then, you may ask? Because… right now the P.E.P. is essentially a parent led education (just like homeschooling) that has a few minor requirements in order to access over $7000 per child that can be used for a host of education materials, curriculum, tuitions, tutors, and more. Let me cover some of the most glaring questions many are asking right now:
Question 1: Where does the money for the P.E.P. Scholarship come from? The Government?
Answer: No! The funds come from private companies who donate to SUFS in order to receive a tax deduction. No money is taken from taxes, schools, or government programs.
Question 2: Who is eligible for the scholarship in the upcoming 2023/2024 school year?
Answer: Students in Florida whose household income does not exceed 400% of poverty level. (Example: a family of four cannot have an annual income that exceeds $120,000.00) *this income level is set to increase each year until 2027 when income requirements will be dropped and ALL families are eligible.
Question 3: The bill says that you have to submit an educational plan. What does that look like?
Answer 3: This year the plan involves answering 4 basic and generic checklist questions online. It is very simple and there are no “right plans” in place. Additionally the application process states multiple times that you don’t have to stick with these plans and can change them at anytime if you wish. These businesses simply want to know that you do have plans in place to educate your child before they award you thousands of dollars. No serious plan is rejected. In my experiences working with homeschooling families, I believe the scholarship staff will be in awe of how much thought goes into education by the average homeschooling parent.
Question 4: I see that at the end of the year a standardized test is required. Which one? What is done with the scores?
Answer 4: There is NO specific test required. You can use any standardized test AND the test is paid for by the funds. Like the IOWA? Use that. CAT-6? Sure! ACT? Yep. You decide. Additionally, NOTHING is done with the scores. The score isn’t even tied to the student that takes it. The scholarship itself is taking this data and looking over 5 years at how the students in this plan are doing. These scores are the only way they can measure the overall group’s progress.
Question 5: What if I don’t like the P.E.P. Track?
Answer 5: Quit! You can withdraw from the program and choose another education option under Florida Law. Our current HOMESCHOOL law is still in place and you can file a letter of intent with the county and home educate the traditional way once again. No harm, no foul.
Question 6: How many people can get the P.E.P. Funds?
Answer 6: Up to 20,000 students this year. (As of this writing, only 5,700 students have applied for the P.E.P. Program, so there is still plenty of room if you want to apply and use these monies for your child’s education in 2023.) Next year 60,000 students will be accepted and the income level increases, the year after 100,000 students and additional income added, etc. By 2027 there will be NO cap on students or income!
Question 7: Is it a bad idea to take these funds? Is this a “If you give a Mouse a Cookie” situation and the Government will want more from us all over time?
Answer 7: There is no evidence indicating this to be the case, and we can rest assured that Brenda Dickinson and HEF are watching every move in education law to be sure that we are safe and free here in Florida. That’s why we support HEF through donations and word of mouth support!
Question 8: BUT IT SAYS I HAVE TO TERMINATE MY HOME EDUCATION PROGRAM! ISN’T THAT A RISKY MOVE?!
Answer 8: Do NOT stress and do NOT terminate your home education program until AFTER you have been approved for the plan AND have received funds in your account. THEN you send a letter telling the county that you are terminating and have chosen to participle in P.E.P. You are safe.
So what should everyone do now?
My advice is to ask yourself what your education plans are for this year. Do you have a limited budget for your families educational journey? Do you have classes, curriculum, materials and more that you would utilize if you had more funds? Are you willing to answer some basic questions and take a year end test of your choosing? If you answered yes to these, then I would apply for the P.E.P. at stepupforstudents.com. This year, there really aren’t many downsides.
Not sold? Unsure? No worries! Keep going down the solid home education law track that you are on. It’s proven to work and it is not going anywhere. Win-win!
In closing I leave you with this strong recommendation, every family needs to sign up for the free legislative newsletter updates from HEF to get the most current news. Additionally, if every homeschooling family would commit $5 a month to assure they will always have a voice in Tallahassee guarding our rights, Brenda Dickinson and the Home Education Foundation would have ample funds to remain a strong force at the Capitol for generations to come. Go ahead—click this link now!
And send this article to your friends. Let’s remember that having a strong offense is the BEST defense.