Bishop endorses scholarships for Florida Catholic schools

On May 12, Bishop Gerald M. Barbarito released a special video message on behalf of the Diocese of Palm Beach endorsing the increased scholarship assistance offered to Catholic school families through Step Up for Students.

Step Up for Students is a state-approved nonprofit scholarship organization whose mission is to “empower parents to pursue and engage in the most appropriate learning options for their children, with an emphasis on families who lack the information and financial resources to access these options.”

In his video message, Bishop Barbarito addressed the importance of Catholic education and how Step Up for Students can assist families in affording tuition through three major scholarship funds: the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship, the Family Empowerment Scholarship and the Gardiner Scholarship.

The Florida Tax Credit Scholarship and the Family Empowerment Scholarship are available on an income-based need. These give students the option to ?nd the best schools that meet their K-12 learning needs.

The Gardiner Scholarship assists Florida families in customizing education for their children—ages 3 through 22—with certain special needs. The scholarship covers 17 diagnoses, including autism spectrum disorder, hearing and visual impairment, anaphylaxis and traumatic brain injury. Parents can use scholarship money toward a combination of approved programs and providers that best meet their children’s unique learning needs.

As the episcopal moderator for the Catholic Education Committee of the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops, Bishop Barbarito has been working closely with Lauren May, manager of Catholic School Initiatives, Advocacy and Civic Engagement for Step Up For Students, and the diocesan Office of Catholic Schools to ensure that families and students continue to receive assistance or have access to new assistance during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In an email to the Florida Catholic, May wrote, “Step Up For Students is committed to working with our Catholic schools so that as many families as possible have access to a high-quality, well-rounded education that you will find only at a Catholic school. I know this is a scary time for many, but we are here to help. If your family qualifies for a scholarship, I encourage you to apply because the impact of a Catholic education could change your child’s future for the better.”

On May 4, the principals from the 17 diocesan Catholic schools were invited to attend a Zoom meeting hosted by Step Up for Students and the Florida Catholic Council, an agency of the Florida Council of Catholic Bishops that undertakes collaborative educational and pastoral activities. Gary Gelo, superintendent of Catholic schools for the Diocese of Palm Beach, attended the meeting and relayed to the Florida Catholic that, “Step Up for Students continues to allow for changes in family financial circumstances regarding applications for state scholarships. The current marketing strategies are promoting this to families already enrolled in our Catholic schools, as well as potential new enrollment.”

Since 2001, more than 784,000 scholarships have been provided on an income-based scale to Florida students in grades K-12. Step Up for Students manages multiple scholarship programs offering tuition assistance to more than 100,000 students on the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship, nearly 18,000 on the Family Empowerment Scholarship and more than 13,000 on the Gardiner Scholarship for students with special needs. The Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program remains the organization’s largest program and is also the largest scholarship program of its kind in the nation.

“I ask you to consider applying for these scholarships for your students,” said Bishop Barbarito in his video statement. “We are grateful that these are available, and we want to make the best use of them.”

To learn more about Step Up for Students or to apply for scholarship assistance, visit

Applications are processed in the order in which they are received. Scholarships are awarded with priority given to renewal families followed by new families with the greatest financial need. For more information, call 1-877-735-7837 or email with questions regarding application steps and requirements.

Thank you to Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito, the Bishop of the Diocese of Palm Beach and the Episcopal Moderator for the Catholic Education Committee of the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops, for sharing this special message about Step Up For Students!