Family Empowerment Scholarship for Students with Unique Abilities (ESA)

  • Education Savings Account (ESA)
  • Enacted 2014
  • Launched 2014

Florida’s Family Empowerment Scholarship Program for Students with Unique Abilities allows students with special needs an opportunity to receive an education savings account (ESA) funded by the state and administered by an approved scholarship funding organization (SFO). Parents can use the funds to pay for a variety of educational services, including private school tuition and fees; instructional materials and devices; specialized services by an approved provider or hospital; tutoring; online education; home education; curriculum; therapies and behavior analysis; services from a speech pathologist; fees for national; norm-referenced tests; AP exams and industry certifications; unbundled courses and services at a public school; tuition or fees from a choice navigator; postsecondary educational institutions in Florida and other defined educational services. Learn more about it on this page, including eligibility, funding, regulations, legal history, and more. 

We do not administer this program.

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  • 91,037

    Participating Students (202324)

  • 11%

    of Students Eligible Statewide

  • 1,972

    Participating Schools (2021–22)

  • 7,000

    Providers, approximately

  • $9,858

    Average Account Value (2023–24)

  • 90%

    Value as a Percentage of Per-Student Funding for Special Needs (Maximum)  

Florida’s Family Empowerment Scholarship Program (ESA) Participation

Students Participating
School Year Ending

Student Funding

Florida’s Family Empowerment Scholarship Program (ESA) is funded through the Florida Education Finance Plan. The per-pupil amount varies according to grade, county of residence and public school spending for students with disabilities, with the maximum equating to 100 percent of the cost of the matrix of services a student would receive from a school district. ESAs are prorated based on the academic quarter in which the student is deemed eligible for the ESA by a scholarship-funding organization. As of 2023-24, the average ESA is just under $10,000.  

(Last updated December 18, 2023) 

Student Eligibility

To be awarded an ESA, students must be between the ages of 3 and 22 and not yet graduated from the 12th grade. Students must have an Individualized Education Plan or have been diagnosed by a physician or psychologist with one of the following: autism spectrum disorder, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, an intellectual disability, muscular dystrophy, Phelan-McDermid syndrome, Prader-Willi syndrome, spina bifida, Williams syndrome, anaphylaxis, dual sensory impairment, rare diseases which affect patient populations of fewer than 200,000 Americans, specific learning disabilities, and other health impairments as defined by law. Students are also eligible if A) they are identified as deaf or visually impaired, B) they have had a traumatic brain injury defined by the state board of education, C) they are hospitalized or homebound with a medically diagnosed physical or psychiatric condition for more than six months or D) they are students aged three, four or five who are considered “high-risk” due to developmental delay.  

*Note: As of July 1, 2022, students who were participating in the McKay Scholarship Program joined the Family Empowerment Scholarship Program under the Unique Abilities category (FES UA). 

(Last updated December 18, 2023) 

EdChoice Expert Feedback

Florida’s education savings account for students with special needs (FES-UA) helps more than 83,000 students access schools that are the right fit for them. In 2023, Florida policymakers dramatically expanded educational choice eligibility, so all students have access to an Education Savings Account under one of the four choice programs. 

Eligibility for the scholarships is limited to students with certain special needs. About one in 10 Florida students are eligible to receive a scholarship. Statewide, roughly 10 percent of students participate in one of Florida’s private educational choice options (including the Florida Tax-Credit Scholarship ProgramFamily Empowerment Scholarship Program for Educational Opportunities, and the Hope Scholarship Program. This is the highest share of K–12 students participating in private school choice programs in the nation. . This is the highest share of K–12 students participating in private school choice programs in the nation.  

The average ESA size is about $9,900, which is comparable to the average student expenditure at Florida’s district schools but still only a portion of the average per-pupil funding for students with special needs at district schools.  

Florida’s ESA program generally avoids unnecessary and counterproductive regulations. The addition of a “choice navigator” to the program offers parents an optional guide to help with choice options and academics. 

(Last updated December 18, 2023) 

Rules and Regulations

  • Income Limit: None 
  • Prior Year Public School Requirement: None 
  • Geographic Limit: Statewide 
  • Enrollment Cap: 26,500 students plus students exempted from the cap (students in foster care, adopted students and students who attended a public school or school for deaf and blind in the prior year); cap has an escalator of 3% of public school exceptional student attendance per year, not including gifted 
  • Account Cap: 100 percent of Florida Education Finance Plan funding per pupil (SFO may not transfer payments if account balance exceeds $50,000) 
  • Testing Mandates:  State test or Nationally norm-referenced tests (if deemed appropriate for the child) 
  • Limited to students with certain special needs, those diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder; cerebral palsy; Down syndrome; an intellectual disability; muscular dystrophy; Phelan-McDermid syndrome; Prader-Willi syndrome; spina-bifida; Williams syndrome; identified as deaf, visually impaired, or having a traumatic brain injury defined by the State Board of Education; those who are hospitalized or homebound with a medically diagnosed physical or psychiatric condition for more than six months; or students age 3, 4 or 5 who are considered “high-risk” due to developmental delays 

School Requirements: 

  • Be approved by the state 
  • Allow administration of testing with district for students requesting state assessment  
  • Provide fee schedules to the department of education at least 30 days before the first quarterly payment   
  • 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. § 2000d 
  • Teachers and other school personnel who work 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 for fewer than three years must obtain a surety bond or letter of credit to cover the value of the scholarship payments for one quarter 
  • Notify the Florida Department of Education when a scholarship student withdraws from the school 
  • Statement of waiver of rights under IDEA for students with disabilities 
  • Report student’s progress to parents annually 
  • Prior to enrollment, discuss the school’s specialized services, academic offerings, and policies with the parent 

(Last updated December 18, 2023) 


Parent Requirements 

  • Must sign an agreement with the SFO annually to: 
    • Affirm that the student is enrolled in a program that meets regular school attendance requirements 
    • Affirm that program funds are used only for authorized purposes serving the student’s educational needs 
    • Ensure student takes all appropriate standardized assessments, either the state assessment test or a nationally recognized norm-referenced test that is administered by a school 
    • Affirm that the parent will not transfer any college savings funds to another beneficiary 
    • Affirm that the parent will not take possession of any funding provided by the state 
    • Provide annual evaluation of educational progress 
    • Renew program participation each year 
    • Affirm that an insurance company, Medicaid or any other agency will not be billed for the same services that are paid for using FES-UA Scholarship funds 

(Last updated December 18, 2023) 


Governing Statutes

Fla. Stat. §1002.385

(Last updated February 27, 2023)