Step Up for Students was founded in 2001 as a scholarship clearinghouse for low income Florida public school students (K-12) to access public schools or transportation to other public schools in a different district. Step Up for Students has a separate scholarship program for students with special needs who may be better served by another school. Step Up for Students offers full and partial scholarships to eligible families.
- Low administrative expenses
- Low fundraising expenses
- 98.9 percent program delivery
Step Up for Students spent 0.6 percent of its annual revenue on administrative expenses in 2015. The president and CEO earned an annual salary of $211,787, which is equivalent to 0.05 percent of the annual revenue reported for the year.
While we are unable to determine past indicators of the amount and percent of income which has been allocated to fundraising activities, there is no reason to suggest that Step Up for Students has experienced a large shift from past years' figures either. For the fiscal year end of June 30, 2015, Step Up for Students allocated 0.4 percent of its annual revenue for fundraising, or $1,547,727. One hundred percent of its funding came from contributions, gifts, and grants.
Several charity watchdog organizations look for a minimum of 70-80 percent of income being used for program delivery as an indicator of responsible financial practices. Step Up For Children reported a 98.9 percent program delivery rate for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2015. Further data regarding the average percentage of program delivery for past years is not available. In spite of this lack of information, there is no reason to suggest that Step Up for Students does not maintain this excellent percentage of program delivery regularly.
Step Up for Students sends its donors regular communication and updates via email newsletter or postal mailers. Interested parties may sign up for emailed newsletters, or follow Step Up for Students via their social media channels. The organization operates accounts on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and YouTube.
- Issues with accounting
- Transparency with financial information
- Negative press
Income figures are taken from past information reported to Charity Navigator. There is some question about a sizable annual excess income, which in 2015, was equal to about 20 percent of the organization's annual revenue. Exact breakdowns of income and expenses are not available from Charity Navigator for past years.
The lack of accounting of such a sizable percentage of income is alarming, especially when the charity addresses disappointed parents on social media saying that there is not enough to go around for all children.
Accessible Financial Information
Unlike many other charitable organizations, Step Up for Students does not disclose past years' financial information on its website to the public. This lack of transparency is alarming and would need remediation receiving a higher score on our site.
Discrepancies in Figures
Step Up for Students has been accused of hoarding funds and not fully disclosing its financial records by several Florida Residents. According to some sources, after reviewing financial records, there is an approximate 3 percent discrepancy between the reported number and amount of the scholarships given and the income. The organization reports a total of 1 percent of its income being used for administrative and fundraising combined. Since the organization is not very transparent with its financial information for past years, there is some concern as to what and where the discrepancy lies.
Accusations and Implications that Step Up for Students "Purchases" Votes
While the above point questions the allocation and transparency of funds, there is another issue which may explain the "missing" funds. Step Up for Students stated to news sources that the organization is active politically and contributes up to $1 million to political causes or candidates every other election cycle. There have been allegations that Step Up for Students "buys" politicians' support, and there are legal ramifications of a nonprofit agency being involved in political races.
It is notable that the organization disclosed information to other charity watchdogs, which have given the charity high rankings.
The Bottom Line
Step Up for Students offers scholarships for low income students in Florida allowing them to take advantage of private schools or transportation to public schools which better meet their educational needs which are not in their district. This program serves students in families whose income is equivalent or less than 200 percent of the current year's poverty guideline.
There is significant concern about the organization's lack of transparency. There appears to be a large percentage of excess income which is not otherwise accounted for each year, according to the figures given to Charity Navigator.
Clearly, a downside of this scholarship program for most is its geographic limitations. Step Up for Students is only available in Florida. There are many complaints on the organization's social media about the application process and receiving a scholarship, with many stating that they do not receive timely responses or that they receive conflicting information from the organization.