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NORTH FORT MYERS | Private school says state scholarship program owes them $40,000

Step Up for Students provides tuition, staff pay and money for utilities
Posted at 4:19 PM, Oct 18, 2023
and last updated 2023-10-18 19:48:56-04

NORTH FORT MYERS, Fla. — The difference between keeping one North Fort Myers school open or closing it is coming down to whether scholarships will be paid out.

A Florida Department of Education program provides money to an organization in charge of giving out scholarships. At this point, Living Word Christian School says it's missing around $40,500 since March.

"I'm at my wits end with this," said Jennifer Scaff, a parent of an 8th grader.

She says the money will go into the account for each student with a scholarship. When a parent approves of the amount, the money is sent to the school.

The money from the DOE goes to an organization called "Step Up for Students." They're in charge of disbursing the money to the schools.

The school's principal says they rely on it to function.

"They need to be able to pay the staff and electricity," Scaff said.

It helps foot the bill for books, lunches, the curriculum, liability insurance for the children and other things to stay open.

"I have not gotten any email from them to release funds to the school this school year," Scaff said.

The issue is not just local. We have reported the dilemma across the state from West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale.

The principal says she has spent 146 hours on the phone, sent 29 e-mails and 19 help tickets. She says they have not received any resolution.

About 55 children go to the school and 52 are on a scholarship.

"It’s never been a problem like this and I don’t know what the problem is," Scaff said.

Fox 4 reached out to the organization, who gave the following statement:

According to our records, we’ve paid this school $63,309.41 so far this school year; the last payment was on Sept. 27. That represents all but 11 of their 42 invoices sent to the account that they provided in their banking profile. Step Up is currently working to process the remaining 11 invoices totaling $20,151.84.

According to our records, this student was funded on August 28, the school invoiced us on September 1, and we paid the school on September 11 for the full First Quarter amount of the scholarship.

The problem may be when the parent views the student’s account detail in our EMA portal, it shows no 2024 transactions. However, when we check the system where the official student account is maintained, it clearly shows the funding and the invoice, and when we check our payment system, the invoice shows as paid.

We reached out to the parent to inform her of this and to see if she has any other issues.
Step Up for Students

However, the principal says the organization is not including the money owed to them from last school year. We do know the organization launched a new platform to manage the scholarships. Under a new law, the program no longer has an income cap, leaving the door open to more enrollment.

"I wish they would've been better prepared if they knew there were more student enrollment," Scaff said.

At the moment, the ministry has to absorb all the costs, which it already does if the scholarships don't cover everything.

It's a decision that could come with a bigger price, if the money doesn't come soon.

"I hope they get this figured out quickly, because I don't want to see these doors closed," Scaff explained.

The principal told Fox 4 our report that the organization contacted her to help resolve the issue.