LAND O’ LAKES, Fla. (WFLA) — Almost every week, Valerie Burks sits down in her chair, and her son, Joel Marrero, in his. The makeshift classroom she set up in the loft area of her house has a lot of what’s expected: a colorful rug, books, spelling posters. Just no students, save for one.
“I believe they definitely do a lot better homeschooling,” Burks explained.
Since Joel has a heart defect, Burks said he’s developed slower than other kids, so she homeschools the 6-year-old. She said she receives $10,700 each year from the Florida nonprofit Step Up For Students to help pay for homeschooling and his various therapies.
“I’m very grateful for the scholarship,” Burks said. “Because it is really helpful.”
But this school year, Burks showed 8 On Your Side, Joel has $23.44 in his account. Joel’s older brother, Josiah Burks, has $21.71.
Burks said Josiah has autism, and he’s supposed to have $9,800 every year to pay for his virtual online school. She said an installment of that money should have arrived on September 15.
“Step Up told me that, just keep watching my email, that they’re a little behind,” Burks recalled. “That’s the word I got.”
As she waits for the money, she said Josiah is not doing any school.
“We have just put everything on hold,” Burks said. “We’re just pretty much on a standstill until those funds do get disbursed.”
Burks said she cannot afford to pay for Josiah’s online school by herself, but doesn’t want the alternate option.
“If for any reason they didn’t [pay], I would have to put my son in public school,” Burks said. “Which would probably be a bad thing.”
And Burks said she’s running out of material for Joel.
“It’s getting really hard because we’re in a new grade level,” Burks said. “So I need those books, you know, to start working with.”
Step Up For Students told 8 On Your Side the two boys had mismatched identification numbers, which is why they didn’t get funding on time. The nonprofit said Monday the issue was resolved and expects them to get their funding in early November, but hopes it will happen earlier.
It said Josiah and Joel were two of nearly 2,000 similar students who haven’t been funded yet due to various issues. A Step Up spokesperson explained the program has always not funded around 2 percent of students due to errors and issues. This year, it said, it has more students, which means 2 percent makes up an even larger number than before.
Step Up added that Florida is implementing the largest education choice program in the country, and the process will improve as initial onboarding issues are resolved.