John M. McKay Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Program
- Enacted 1999
- Launched 2000
Florida’s John M. McKay Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Program allows public school students with special needs who have Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) or 504 plans to receive vouchers to attend private schools or other public schools. Florida legislature expanded the program in 2000. This program will be subsumed into Florida’s Family Empowerment Scholarship (Unique Abilities ESA) Program in 2022–23. Learn more about the most up-to-date program details on this page, including eligibility, funding, regulations, legal history and more.
We do not administer this program.
Participating Students (Spring 2022)
of Students Eligible Statewide
Participating Schools (Spring 2022)
Average Voucher Value (2021–22)
Value as a Percentage of Public School Per-student Spending (non-special needs specific)
Florida’s John M. McKay Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Program Participation
Vouchers are worth up to 100 percent of the Florida Education Finance Plan funding per pupil, though funding may not exceed the private school’s tuition and fees. Calculations are based off the services provided by the district under the student’s IEP or 504 plan. Parents may supplement vouchers with their own money for tuition.
Students with special needs who have IEPs or 504 plans and were enrolled in public school for at least one year are eligible. Students entering kindergarten may also qualify without enrolling in public school if the state’s Office of Early Learning report that they received specialized instructional services in prekindergarten or if they transfer to a private school in a year during which they were previously enrolled in a public kindergarten in October. Students in foster care and dependents of active duty military who moved to Florida from out-of-state on a military assignment are also exempt from the prior public schooling requirement.
EdChoice Expert Feedback
Florida’s voucher for students with disabilities helps tens of thousands of students access schools that are the right fit for them, but policymakers could do more to expand educational opportunity.
Eligibility for the scholarships is limited to students with special needs who have IEPs or 504 plans. About 11 percent of Florida students are eligible to receive a scholarship. Statewide, 5.5 percent of students participate in one of Florida’s private educational choice options (including the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program, Family Empowerment Scholarships Program for Educational Opportunities, the Hope Scholarships Program, and the Family Empowerment Scholarship (Unique Abilities ESA) Program). This is the second highest EdChoice share in the nation.
The average scholarship size is about $9,600, which is about 69 percent of the average expenditure per student at Florida’s district schools.
In order to expand access to educational choice, Florida policymakers have created the publicly funded Gardiner Scholarship Program for students with special needs and the Family Empowerment Scholarships Program to serve students who were on the scholarship waitlist.
Florida’s voucher program generally avoids unnecessary and counterproductive regulations.
Rules and Regulations
- Income Limit: None
- Prior Year Public School Requirement: Yes, with exceptions
- Geographic Limit: Statewide
- Enrollment Cap: None
- Voucher Cap: 100 percent of Florida Education Finance Plan funding per pupil
- Testing Mandates: None
- *Limited to students with special needs
- 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. § 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
- Provide a program of instruction for a minimum of 170 actual school instruction days
- Notify the Florida Department of Education when a scholarship student withdraws from the school
- Verify participants’ enrollment three times per year
- Report student’s progress to parents annually
On January 4, 2019, the Florida Supreme Court in Citizens for Strong Schools v. Florida State Board of Education rejected a claim that the state did not adequately fund education, marking the end of a 10-year litigation effort. The high court also preserved Florida’s school choice programs due to plaintiffs’ failure to adequately preserve their arguments throughout the litigation. The high court affirmed two lower court rulings (Citizens for Strong Schools, Inc. v. Florida State Board of Education, No. CA-4534 (Fla. 2d. Jud. Cir. May 24, 2016; and Citizens for Strong Schools v. Florida State Board of Education, No. 1D16-2862 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. Dec. 13, 2017) holding that plaintiffs had no standing to sue regarding the tax-credit scholarship program, and that Florida’s school choice programs did not divert state funding or have any detrimental effect on Florida’s system of public schools. Notwithstanding the Florida Supreme Court’s prior ruling against vouchers (Bush v. Holmes, 886 So. 2d 340 (Fla. 1st DCA 2004), aff’d on other grounds, 919 So. 2d 392 (Fla. 2006)), the Court also held that the McKay voucher program was beneficial and constitutional. Citizens for Strong Schools v Florida State Board of Education, case No. SC18-67 (FL. Jan 4, 2019)
John M. McKay Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Program State Groups
That Support School Choice
ExcelinEd supports state leaders in transforming education to unlock opportunity and lifelong success for each and every child through their policy work.
Step Up For Students is a state-approved nonprofit scholarship funding organization that helps administer five scholarships for Florida schoolchildren: the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program (FTC) and the Family Empowerment Scholarship (FES) for lower-income families, the Gardiner Scholarship for children with certain special needs, the Hope Scholarship for public school students who are bullied or victims of violence and the Reading Scholarship Accounts for public school students in third through fifth grade who struggle with reading.