Florida - John M. McKay Scholarships

school choice

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

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

  • 28,935 participating students (Fall 2019)

  • 11 percent of students eligible statewide

  • 1,516 participating schools (Fall 2019)

  • Average voucher value: $7,557 (Fall 2019)

  • Value as a percentage of public school per-student spending: 76 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 special needs who have Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) or 504 plans to receive vouchers to attend private schools or other public schools.

Student Funding

Vouchers are worth up to the same amount public schools would have spent on a participating child, 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.

Student Eligibility

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 reported that they received specialized instructional services in prekindergarten. 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 John M. McKay Scholarship program was the first of its kind in the country and remains the model for similar, newly created programs in other states. The program excels on funding power and school requirements. Vouchers are worth up to the child’s full funding in his or her previous public school. As for school requirements, participating schools must be approved by the state and report to parents annually on participating students’ progress. Private schools are not required to accept all students—an important feature, as not all private schools are equipped to educate students with special needs. The program’s only shortcoming is that it is limited, in this case to students with special needs. Obviously those children deserve access to a great education, but other Florida students similarly could benefit from McKay’s generous vouchers. Should the program expand eligibility, it would only improve upon its already great achievements.

Rules and Regulations

  • Income Limit: None
  • Prior Year Public School Requirement: Conditional
  • 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. § 2000(d)
  • 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
  • Report student’s progress to parents annually

Governing Statutes

Fla. Stat. § 1002.39

Legal History

On January 4, 2019, the Florida Supreme Court 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, 2017holding that plaintiffs had no standing to sue regarding the taxcredit scholarship programand 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) 

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