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Step Up For Students

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LAST UPDATED: September 21st, 2022
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.

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The Good

  • Low administrative expenses
  • Low fundraising expenses
  • 98.9 percent program delivery

Administrative Expenses

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.

Fundraising Expenses

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.

Program Percentage

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.

Donor Communication

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.

Awards

While not an award, Step Up for Students achieved a perfect four-star rating from Charity Navigator, a charity watchdog organization for its fiscal year ending June 30, 2015. This rating is rare among charitable organizations. The area which Charity Navigator most often finds lacking and negatively affects a charity's rating is the lack of a clear donor privacy policy online.
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The Bad

  • Issues with accounting
  • Transparency with financial information
  • Negative press

Total Income

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. 2015: $457,825,632 2014: $332,463,277 2013: $310,799,794 2012: $267,447,702 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.

Negative Press

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.
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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.
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8 Reviews

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Maria Alvarado Orlando, FL

I apply on the first day it opened on may and it is still pending. They have sent me emails saying that they were going to close the application and I asked them why? Because I put all the paperwork needed. I'm still waiting and it's the third week of September.

1 week ago

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Keri K Blairsville, GA

If I could give zero stars, I would! This teaches children that soliciting and (borderline harassing$ family and friends to donate to their school will “make them rich” “give tj prizes” and socioeconomically divides children. At my sons school they were segregated by colored wrist bands. Those with only certain colors or who “raised” funds were eligible for prizes why the other kids sat back and watched- winning nothing. Kids were crying, by boys came home with nothing and said they felt like losers and asked “are we poor!” We need to teach children that community work earns prizes; not money handed to them and the kid with the most wins. Disgusting concept! All schools Should be audited with the proceeds. Their school is a Title 1 public charter who has new everything! We are in a rural community and divided by this concept. What’s next? If you don’t sell enough candy bars for your soccer team you can’t play? What about all the kids who receive free lunch must wear a wristband everyday- I am livid and the fight has just begun!

3 years ago

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Susan Chesser Lakeland, FL

SUFS is an awful organization. Just this month they mismanaged over a million dollars of tax payer funds earmarked for special needs children. Over 4,000 renewal students are still waiting on the funding promised in the law. SUFS refuses to give a clear answer about when these funds will be available, yet they continue to fund new applicants and advertise for new applicants. This organization is not fit to run a lemonade stand, much less manage millions of dollars in education funds.

1 year ago

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Michael S Yucaipa, CA

Let's tell it exactly how it is - this is spam at its lowest, exploiting kids and pressuring families to participate in spamming friends and relatives so the kid doesn't feel left out depressingly from a day of fun and games. Had to teach my kid what this is similar to - telemarketing calls, robocalls, and scammers. Schools that participate in this are either ignorant or are receiving a pay check under the table. Plain and simple. Tore up the printed sheets and not participating with this idiocy.

3 years ago

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AX San Diego, CA

I do NOT support step it up. If it were just a donation at a local school I would gladly donate but step it up is just spam. Students spam their parents, friends, and family emails about donating not because they want their schools to be better, but because they want a prize. Students get prizes for spamming the most people for prizes, and step it up automatically subscribes your email to their news and sends follow up emails.

4 years ago

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Jason Wells Long Beach, CA

They do a great job getting the kids so excited to raise money in order to win prizes. The prizes end up being complete JUNK and almost every kid in our school walked away mad and disappointed. I'm not sure how much of a percentage they take from what we raised, but we are telling our school to NEVER do business with them again. False advertising in the prizes too. My boys were MAD. I was embarrassed that I got so many friends and family to give money.

4 years ago

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ADAM JACKSON Sanford, FL

Started my application in April . Still pending in August 3 to 4 week to get a response. I work hard being a single parent. I do not believe it is to much to ask for timely communication. If I were to be a single female parent this matter would have already been handed. Justice for all as long as you're not a single male parent. It is not the first time I have run in to this even the court system makes it harder to get things taken care of .

6 years ago

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Olivia Pasadena, TX

1) all of the “prizes” are available at the dollar store 2) it’s bribing children so they can go home, ask their parents for money not for helping the school but for the so-called prizes.

3 years ago