Florida Chamber Foundation looks to scholarship initiatives to fight poverty

by | May 25, 2023

  • The Path to Prosperity college scholarship program was highlighted at the Prosperity & Economic Opportunity Summit in Florida.
  • The program aims to raise $10 million from Florida businesses to provide higher education scholarships to children in the state’s highest-poverty zip codes.
  • Florida Power & Light donated $2.1 million, which was matched by the Florida Prepaid College Foundation, resulting in 1,000 scholarships awarded to students in Florida.

The annual Prosperity & Economic Opportunity Summit, hosted by the Florida Chamber Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the Florida Chamber of Commerce, took place on Thursday, where business leaders from across the state dissected education initiatives aimed at combating childhood poverty.

Speaker Cynthia O’Connell, Director of the Florida Prepaid College Foundation, kicked off a series of panels by highlighting the Path to Prosperity college scholarship program, which launched two years ago in conjunction with the Florida Chamber Foundation. The program aims to raise $10 million from Florida businesses in order to provide higher education scholarships to children in the state’s highest-poverty zip codes.

“We know that a child’s educational opportunities play an integral role in their lifetime opportunities, and their ability to lead a productive and fulfilling life,” she said. “Education is the most powerful instrument in bringing anyone out of poverty.”

“We know that poverty is dependent on much more than education. In fact, poverty is an outcome of many interlinking factors that run the gamut of the experience a family and child would have throughout the day,” said Dave Sobush, Director of Research for the Florida Chamber Foundation.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the child poverty rate in Florida was 17.9 percent in 2020, which means nearly 1 in 5 children in the state lived below the federal poverty line.

Florida Power & Light, the state’s largest energy provider, donated $2.1 million to the scholarship, which the Florida Prepaid College Foundation has matched, buying 1000 scholarships for students in Florida. In totality, the foundation has awarded 58,000 scholarships, empowering more than 33,000 students to attend a university.

“At FPL, we believe that knowledge is power, which is why we support education initiatives in many different forms to help provide a better, more brighter future for all students,” said Jim Bush, FPL Director of External Affairs. “A great student’s potential should not be limited because the zip code they live in struggles with the challenge of poverty on a daily basis.

As of March, more than 700,000 Florida children are living in poverty, with half of these children concentrated in just 15 percent of Florida’s zip codes – resulting in extremely impoverished communities where children face a much greater likelihood of academic challenges.

The scholarships are planned to be awarded in phases, with the first 250 scholarships being allocated to FPL service areas that align with the 150 highest-poverty zip codes and can be used at Florida public colleges and universities as well as technical and vocational schools.

Last year, the Florida Chamber introduced a refined Gap Map tool that allows business owners and local leaders to assess potential correlations between mitigating factors and poverty.

As part of the Florida Chamber Foundation’s goal to help reduce childhood poverty to a rate below 10 percent, the tool allows for an analysis of how varying rates of poverty affect local communities, broken down by county.

Using the Gap Map, interlinked variables with poverty like school performance, safety, and housing availability can be seen and utilized in tailoring efforts to ensure specific resources are deployed to combat the economic barriers.

Sobush discussed the analysis and subsequent diagnoses of poverty catalysts in the state, deducing ten root causes spanning a variety of sectors including healthcare access, transportation, and education.

The analysis serves as a framework of understanding that can serve to allow leaders to better dissect methods of improving economic equity and mobility within struggling communities.

Beyond the three aforementioned root causes, Sobush also deems job opportunities, housing, food security, child and family care, safety, justice, and community voice as contributing factors.


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