the official student-produced news site for Saint Stephen's Episcopal School

the Gauntlet

the official student-produced news site for Saint Stephen's Episcopal School

the Gauntlet

the official student-produced news site for Saint Stephen's Episcopal School

the Gauntlet

The move to decline the Step Up scholarship will ensure academic independence

The 2023-24 school year is the first in which the Step Up scholarship will not be accepted by SSES, with the school deciding instead to grant those families an equivalent amount of financial assistance directly from the school. The kind of Independence that Saint Stephen’s has from declining the vouchers gives them an opportunity to look to a better future for the students in their own way. 
Ari Chapman
Financial aid, particularly in the form of “school vouchers,” is a necessity for many who attend private schools, unless the school can provide the funds directly, as is the idea for SSES.

In July of 2023, the state of Florida expanded the Florida Empowerment Scholarships, which provides money from the Department of Education to families that wish to send their children to a private school. The state recently changed the policy to include all families in public and private schools, regardless of family income. Before they would only allow kids that wish to attend private schools.

While prior to 2023-24 Saint Stephen’s accepted a certain number of Step Up scholarship monies for those families who met the state’s previous income qualifications, following the expansion of the program, SSES decided instead to grant those families an equivalent amount of financial assistance directly from the school.

But the change was something that, for obvious reasons, got the attention of many in the school community. 

I sat down with Peter Kraft, our Head of School, to discuss the Florida Empowerment Scholarships and the school’s decision to go in a different direction. While Kraft was part of the discussions regarding the vouchers, the Board of Trustees, in conjunction with the previous administration, made the final decision in the Spring of 2023 (prior to Mr. Kraft’s assuming the headship in July 2023) to not accept them at Saint Stephen’s.

Kraft fully supports the Board’s decision. He indicated that while he understands families’ interest in receiving support from the state, overall, the vouchers were not producing a significant number of new private school students; instead, almost 80% of the new funds have been used by students already attending private schools. 

He also noted that the Board had concerns about the long-term viability of the funding. If the state were ever to reduce the amounts provided to families or change the criteria, families and schools that are dependent on such funds could be left out. 

But the biggest factor for not accepting the school vouchers, according to Kraft, is that Saint Stephen’s wants to maintain its independence. They didn’t want the state to be able to dictate the school’s curriculum, testing, hiring practices, or other critical aspects of an independent school.

“First and foremost we want to make sure we are an independent school,” Kraft said.  “When we make decisions, we are making them based on what we, in our heart of hearts, think is the best for the school, and best for our students.”

Some of those families that have received the vouchers in the past, in order to afford Saint Stephen’s, were initially distraught by the news that the school would no longer take them.

Saint Stephen’s parent Alka Srivastva,who had previously been awarded funds from the voucher program, was Initially perplexed by the move to no longer accept the vouchers. But once she learned the rationale, she felt more comfortable with the decision. 

“I support and applaud Saint Stephens’ decision to remain independent and reject the voucher program,” Srivastva said.  

She added that she understood it was in order to maintain the highest quality standards of education that SSES is known for, rather than be subject to the politics of Florida’s educational statutes.

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About the Contributor
Kavi Riedi
Kavi Riedi, Staff Writer
Kavi Riedi is currently a sophomore student that has never been on the Gauntlet until this year. Some of his hobbies are running track, cross country, hanging out with friends at the beach, and chilling at the ice rink. His favorite color is orange and he currently has no pets. Riedi's favorite romance movie would be The Choice and as of horror it would be The Conjuring 2. The position on the gauntlet as of this new year he is currently a staff writer, but in future years is interested in a photographer.


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