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How ‘help’ for craft brewers could hurt scholarship students

By Peter Schorsch

Once again, legislation is moving in the Legislature as a “feel good” measure that will favor a few craft brewers looking for more opportunities to bring in revenue.

It seems, however, members have failed to consider the unintended consequences.

Florida’s beer distributors bring America’s favorite brands and emerging new craft beers to consumers. For many of the emerging craft brews, the distributors have the ability to exponentially increase consumer access to their product. The distributors market the brands, ensure a level of quality and promote safe consumption.

Here’s what you didn’t know about Florida’s distributors: They help expand educational opportunities for Florida students who have limited financial resources.

Florida’s beer distributors contributed $153 million last year to Florida’s Tax Credit Scholarship Program, accounting for more than 22% of the scholarships awarded through this program.

In an effort to choose Florida’s craft brewers as winners in the marketplace, lawmakers may designate the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program as a loser this session, robbing the program of nearly one-quarter of its funds.

“Not only do we open markets for long-time favorites and craft beers alike, but we advertise their products, guarantee quality and promote safe consumption,” said Justin Hollis, executive director of the Beer Industry of Florida.

“Furthermore, we’re investing in Florida’s next generation. Florida’s beer distributors contributed more $153 million last year to Florida’s Tax Credit Scholarship program, which provided more than 22,000 scholarships for students in Florida.”

In fact, contributions from Florida’s beer distributors last year to the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program funded precisely 22,788 scholarships for Florida students. These scholarships, which range from $6,343 to $6,920 per student, enable kids to achieve greater academic excellence by providing for tuition at private schools.

Two-thirds of scholarship students are black or Hispanic. Their average annual family income is $25,755. A decade’s worth of standardized test scores shows they were typically the lowest-performing students in their prior public schools.

But now on scholarship in schools of their parents’ choosing, they are making solid progress.

According to a study released in February by the Urban Institute, Florida Tax Credit Scholarship students are up to 43 percent more likely to attend four-year colleges than their peers in public schools, and up to 20 percent more likely to earn bachelor’s degrees. Students who use the scholarship four or more years are up to 45 percent more likely to earn bachelor’s degrees.

“The Florida Tax Credit Scholarship is giving lower-income parents the power to positively change the trajectory of their children’s lives, and it has helped put tens of thousands of students on the path to college and success beyond,” said Jillian Metz, vice president for development at Step Up For Students. “This would not happen at this scale without the incredibly generous and sustained contributions from Florida’s beer distributors.”

The program has also been highlighted by Gov. Ron DeSantis, and he is hoping to expand on its success with a new scholarship fund this year. It’s praised by advocates for school choice because it gives more economically disadvantaged families more options and opportunities to find the school that is the best fit for their children.

Take Ashley Elliot, one of countless scholarship students whose lives have changed for the better.

Ashley was born drug-addicted to a single mom, struggled in high school and says she was destined to become a dropout. But the scholarship allowed her to attend a private school in Lakeland – Victory Christian Academy – where she received the help she needed to focus, gain traction and blossom academically. Now she’s in college, studying to be a teacher.

The program already has a long waiting list as it is unable to meet the demand from students. More than 80,000 students have applied for scholarships to cover the upcoming school year.

But with legislation creating great uncertainty in the industry, it will certainly impact the distributors’ ability to support this critical program.

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