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Florida – John M. McKay Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Program

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Florida – John M. McKay Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Program

Florida’s John M. McKay Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Program was enacted and launched in 1999, making it the nation’s first school voucher program for students with special needs. The Florida legislature expanded the program in 2000. Learn more about the most up-to-date program details on this page, including eligibility, funding, regulations, legal history, and more.

Program Fast Facts

  • America’s first voucher program exclusively for students with special needs

  • 30,104 participating students (Fall 2015)

  • 13 percent of students eligible statewide

  • 1,344 participating schools (Fall 2015)

  • Average voucher value: $7,188 (2015–16 projected)

  • Value as a percentage of public school per-student spending: 89 percent

Program Details

Florida’s John M. McKay Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Program Participation

Students Participating
School Year Ending

Click the + symbols to learn more about this program’s details.

Florida’s John M. McKay Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Program allows public school students with disabilities or 504 plans to receive vouchers to attend private schools or other public schools.

Student Funding

Vouchers are worth the same amount public schools would have spent on a participating child, though funding may not exceed the private school’s tuition and fees. Parents may supplement vouchers with their own money.

Student Eligibility

Students with disabilities—who have Individualized Education Plans or a 504 plan—enrolled in public school for at least one year are eligible. Section 504 protects qualified individuals with disabilities, defined as persons with a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.

Rules and Regulations

  • Income Limit: None
  • Prior Year Public School Requirement: Yes
  • Geographic Limit: Statewide
  • Enrollment Cap: None
  • Voucher Cap: Conditional
  • Testing Mandates: None
  • *Limited to students with special needs
  • School Requirements:
    • Be approved by the state
    • Submit to the state annual sworn compliance reports regarding all local and state health and safety codes
    • Comply with federal nondiscrimination requirements of 42 U.S.C. s 2000d
    • Teachers and other school personnel working with scholarship recipients must undergo federal background checks
    • Teachers must have a bachelor’s degree, three years of teaching experience, or special expertise
    • Schools in operation less than three years must obtain a surety bond or letter of credit to cover the value of the scholarship payments for one quarter
    • Report student’s progress to parents annually

Governing Statutes

Fla. Stat. §§ 1002.39; 1002.421

Legal History

In July 2014, Citizens for Strong Schools, Inc. and Fund Education Now amended a five-year-old lawsuit alleging the state has failed to adequately fund public education to include new claims concerning the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program and the McKay voucher program for students with special needs. The plaintiffs’ amended complaint contends the school choice programs, among other programs, unconstitutionally “divert” money from Florida’s public schools. Trial as expected in early 2016. Citizens for Strong Schools, et al. v. State Bd. of Educ., et al.

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