VENICE, FL—While nobody likes paying taxes, Caldwell Trust Company has found a way to remove some of the sting through Step Up For Students, an initiative of the Florida Tax Credit (FTC) Scholarship Program. “This program has allowed us to redirect $20,000 of our 2011 Florida tax payments to fund scholarships for students in Sarasota County,” says R.G. “Kelly” Caldwell, CEO and president. “We’re really excited to know we can help the kids in our own community—and it doesn’t cost us one extra penny. I encourage other corporations to join us in this truly worthwhile program.”
Based on current formulas, the $20,000 from Caldwell Trust Company will provide at least five scholarships, says Debbie Woerner, director of development of Step Up For Students. This educational plan was designed to help low-income families in Florida obtain the best education for their children, she says. As explained on stepupforstudents.org, the FTC Scholarship Program allows certain businesses to redirect 100 percent of their corporate income or insurance premium taxes each year toward scholarships for low-income students. The funds are restricted to students who qualify for the federal government's free or reduced lunch program.
One student who has benefited is Grace Troyer, 11, of Sarasota. Kenya Woodard, public affairs officer of Step Up For Students, shares the story of Grace and her family, whose move to a new city last year brought them to the neighborhood public school. Grace’s mother, Jenny Curtis, says her three children had a rough adjustment. She felt that Grace was particularly unchallenged. She never had homework, scored perfectly on tests, and stopped asking for help with math, her weakest subject, according to Curtis.
This year, Grace and her siblings returned to a private school, Venice Christian School, with the help of a scholarship from Step Up For Students. Grace is once again excited about school and engaged in learning, her mother says. “She’s doing great. She’s really grown academically this year.”
The basis of Step Up For Students is the very core of public education: the promise of equal educational opportunity for all children. This equal educational opportunity allows students to transfer to a private school or an out-of-district public school that might be a better fit for their needs, but many parents cannot afford either option. To address this need, Tampa-based venture capitalist John Kirtley created the Children's Scholarship Fund of Tampa in 1998. He presented his program to the Florida Legislature in 2001. In response, lawmakers created the Tax Credit Scholarship Program—the Step Up For Students program—for low-income students in grades K-12.
The need is great in Florida. Step Up For Students reports, “Tax Credit Scholarship recipients are among the state’s poorest students. In 2009-10, their average household income was 17 percent above poverty, far below the threshold for a free or reduced-price lunch of 85 percent above poverty. Three-fourths are children of color and three-fifths live in single-parent households. In 2010, more than 33,000 low-income students received scholarships to attend nearly 1,100 different private schools.
Now in its 10th year, Step Up For Students has grown to include more academic and financial accountability, and a state report from Florida’s Office of Program Policy Analysis & Government Accountability showed that the scholarship program saved taxpayers $38.9 million in one year.
“Thanks to the generous support of Caldwell Trust Company, students like Grace Troyer are receiving the education that best meets their needs through Step Up For Students scholarships,” says Step Up For Students President Doug Tuthill. “We are very grateful to the Caldwell employees for their commitment to helping young people in need.”
Caldwell Trust Company is an independent trust company with offices in Venice and Sarasota, Florida. Established in 1993, the firm currently manages nearly $500 million dollars in assets for clients throughout the United States. The company offers a full range of fiduciary services to individuals including services as trustee, custodian, investment advisor, financial manager and personal representative. Additionally, Caldwell manages 401(k) and 403(b) qualified retirement plans for employers. The trust company will also help newcomers establish residency and can refer them to local professionals to create Florida wills, trusts, living wills and surrogate designations.