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Corporate scholarship provider dropping role

Associated Press
Published January 16, 2004

TALLAHASSEE - FloridaChild, the state's largest distributor of corporate-funded private school scholarships, is getting out of the business, citing uncertainty in how much money is available each year.

The Miami organization, which is facing state investigation, collects donations from corporations, which then pay for private school tuition for poor children. The corporations get state tax breaks.

Florida Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher has threatened an investigation of FloridaChild, saying that it charged families fees to get scholarships, solicited money from schools that wanted to accept voucher students and had other "irregularities" in how it did business.

The organization responded that it hasn't done anything wrong, or anything other suppliers of corporate vouchers hadn't.

FloridaChild's original purpose was advocating private school tuition vouchers for all parents. The organization's Web site said it will return to that role and won't pay for scholarships in the 2004-05 school year.

The group's president, Patrick Heffernan, declined comment.

FloridaChild was responsible for 5,629 of the 12,339 corporate tax credit vouchers that were reported at the start of the 2003-04 school year. The bulk of the scholarships awarded by the organization went to students in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties.

Most of the corporate tax vouchers will now be handed out by four groups, which are all members of an umbrella organization, the Florida Association of Scholarship Funding Organizations.

In South Florida, the group that will hand out the scholarships is called Florida PRIDE, which is run by Tampa venture capitalist John Kirtley. He is also a major campaign contributor to the Republican Party, which generally favors vouchers.

Kirtley, through a spokeswoman, released a statement this week thanking Heffernan for his work and promising a smooth transition.

"From the perspective of the parents and school administrators, the change will only be administrative," spokeswoman Denise Lasher said.

The association and FloridaChild "are working together to make sure that this is the smoothest possible transition for both the families and the schools," Lasher said.

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