Understanding Florida Scholarship Options
In Florida, there are six different, state-funded scholarship programs designed to help families best help their child’s educational needs. Some programs are specifics to children with Special Needs. Each program has a unique purpose, criteria for eligibility and application requirements and process. For a more complete description of each program,
McKay Scholarship Program
The McKay Scholarship Program offers parents of students with disabilities the ability to choose the very best environment for their child to learn by through the option to attend a participating private school, or to transfer to another public school.
A private school is regarded as an independently run school by a private organization or individuals. The instruction provided, enrollment selection and services are determined by the group running the school. Private schools are not supported financially by the state; because of this, they can aim for a particular student population, such as religious students, or students with a certain type of disability. Private elementary and secondary schools in Florida are not licensed, approved, accredited or regulated by the Florida Department of Education.
To be eligible for the McKay Scholarship, the student must have spent the past year in a public school, or has to have received specialized instructional services (SIS) under the voluntary pre-kindergarten education program, and must have an IEP (individual educational plan) or a 504 accommodation plan.
Gardiner Scholarship Program
The Gardiner Scholarship Program (formerly referred to as PLSA) provides eligible students a scholarship that aids them in purchasing approved services or products that help design a customized education program. For example, the scholarship can be used towards speech or occupational therapy, instructional materials, tuition at eligible private schools, contributions to college pre-paid accounts, and much more. Unlike with the McKay Scholarship, parents may also use Gardiner funds while in a home education program. The program is directly administered by state-approved non-profit scholarship funding organizations (SFO’s). The average amount of scholarship money offered depends on a number of different factors regarding the student. The grade level, county of residence and the student’s individual level of need are just some of the determining factors. The average amount offered is $10,000, but the percentage of the scholarship that is offered to the student depends on the date their eligibility is confirmed by the scholarship funding organization. The percentage of scholarship funding a student may receive in a given school year is based on the following dates of eligibility:
September 1 100%
November 1 75%
February 1 50%
April 1 25%
Family Empowerment Scholarship
The Family Empowerment Scholarship (FES) Program was created during the 2019 legislative session and is one of Florida’s greatest victories for low-income and working-class families and extends support to middle-income families. The FES Program will provide a life-changing educational lifeline to approximately 18,000 students waiting for an opportunity to find the school that will best work for them and puts more parents in the driver’s seat to determine the best educational environments for their children. For complete eligibility details and application process, visit www.fldoe.org.
Florida Tax Credit Scholarship
Designed specifically to expand educational opportunities for children of families that have limited financial resources and to enable children in this state to achieve a greater level of excellence in their education, the Florida Legislature created the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program in 2001. The law provides for state tax credits for contributions to nonprofit scholarship funding organizations, (SFOs). The SFOs then award scholarships to eligible children of low-income families. The tax credit cap amount for the 2019-2020 fiscal year is $873,565,674.
Hope Scholarship Program
Beginning with the 2018-2019 school year, a student enrolled in a Florida public school in kindergarten through grade 12 who has been subjected to an incident of battery; harassment; hazing; bullying; kidnapping; physical attack; robbery; sexual offenses, harassment, assault, or battery; threat or intimidation; or fighting at school the opportunity to transfer to another public school with capacity or enroll in an approved private school under the Hope Scholarship. For the 2019-20 school year, Step Up For Students will be the only Scholarship Funding Organization administering this scholarship program. Florida Statutes, school district personnel in Florida have a responsibility to notify families of the Hope Scholarship Program.
Opportunity Scholarship Program
Created as a Florida school choice option in 1999, the program offered students who attended or who were assigned to attend failing public schools the option to choose a higher performing public school or a participating private school. On January 5, 2006, the Florida Supreme Court issued a ruling declaring the private school option of the Opportunity Scholarship Program unconstitutional. Students assigned to a failing school are no longer offered the opportunity to transfer and enroll in a participating private school. The option to attend a higher performing public school remains in effect. A public school student's parent may request and receive from the state an Opportunity Scholarship for the student to enroll in and attend a higher performing public school if: by assigned school attendance area or by special assignment, student spent the prior school year in attendance at a public school that has been designated as earning a grade "F" or three consecutive "Ds" as based on the statewide assessments.
Reading Scholarship Program
Reading Scholarship Accounts are available for students in grades 3 through 5 who are enrolled in a Florida public school and scored below a Level 3 on the grade 3 or grade 4 statewide, standardized English Language Arts assessment in the prior school year. For the 2019-2020 school year, the amount of the scholarship is $500 per eligible student. For the 2019-20 school year, Step Up For Students will be the only Scholarship Funding Organization administering this scholarship program. The eligible expenditures for reimbursement are: instructional materials, curriculum, tuition and fees for part-time tutoring services, fees for specialized summer education programs or after school education programs designed to improve reading or literacy skills.
Scholarship Funding Organizations
Each of the Scholarship Funding Organizations (SFO) below is approved to administer the Family Empowerment Scholarship, the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship, the Gardiner Scholarship, the Hope Scholarship, and the Reading Scholarship Programs. Please contact the SFO to determine the programs they administer.
A.A.A. Scholarship Foundation
Step Up for Students
For a more complete description of each program, visit www.fldoe.org/schools/schoolchoice.