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.
America’s first voucher program exclusively for students with special needs
30,392 participating students (Fall 2016)
13 percent of students eligible statewide
1,432 participating schools (Fall 2016)
Average voucher value: $7,217 (Projected 2016–17)
Value as a percentage of public school per-student spending: 86 percent
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.
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.
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.
Florida’s John M. McKay Scholarships 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 schools. As for school requirements, participating schools must be approved by the state and report to parents annually on voucher 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.
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. The Circuit Court of the Second Judicial Circuit In and For Leon County State of Florida ruled against plaintiffs, upholding the constitutionality of Florida’s school choice programs, on May 24, 2016. On June 28, plaintiffs appealed the ruling to the District Court of Appeal State of Florida First District, requesting the case be accepted for direct appeal to Florida’s Supreme Court. Decision pending. Citizens for Strong Schools, et al. v. State Bd. of Educ., et al.