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Florida – Gardiner Scholarship Program

Florida – Gardiner Scholarship Program

Florida’s Gardiner Scholarship Program provides parents funds to pay for a variety of educational services for their children, including private school tuition, tutoring, online education, curriculum, therapy, textbooks, digital devices, courses at eligible post-secondary educational institutions in Florida, specialized after-school programs, transition services, fees for the annual evaluation of the educational progress of the child, fees for home education programs, and other defined educational services. Students may also purchase services, including part-time courses, from public schools.

Program Fast Facts

  • America’s second education savings accounts program

  • 7,463 participating students (Fall 2016)

  • 12 percent of students eligible statewide

  • 1,276 participating schools (2016–17)

  • Average account value: $8,840 (2015–16)

  • Value as a percentage of public school per-student spending: 101 percent

Program Details

Florida’s Gardiner Scholarship Program Participation

Students Participating
School Year Ending

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

Florida’s Gardiner Scholarship Program allows students with special needs an opportunity to receive an education savings account (ESA) funded by the state and administered by an approved scholarshipfunding organization. Parents can use the funds to pay for a variety of educational services, including private school tuition, tutoring, online education, home education, curriculum, therapy, postsecondary educational institutions in Florida and other defined educational services

Student Funding

Funding for Florida’s Gardiner Scholarship Program is provided in the General Appropriations Act, which specifies the annual amount. The amount varies according to grade, county of residence, and public school spending for students with disabilities. The Florida legislature appropriated $71.2 million to the ESA program for 2016–17 with an additional $5.1 million in rollover from unused funds from the previous school year. ESAs are prorated based on the quarter in which the student is awarded the ESA.

Student Eligibility

Students must have an Individualized Education Plan or have been diagnosed 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 or Williams syndrome. Students ages 3, 4 or 5 who are considered “high-risk” due to developmental delays are also eligible.

EdChoice Expert Feedback

Although Florida’s McKay voucher is the nation’s largest such program for students with special needs, the state still took an important step to pass ESAs designed to give parents access to educational therapy, tutoring and online learning programs, which are inaccessible through a traditional voucher program. Funding increased from $53.4 million to a $76.3 million appropriation from the Florida legislature, including a $5.1 million rollover from unspent funds from the previous school year. Notably, Florida’s ESA program is administered by approved nonprofit organizations that reimburse parents for approved expenses. One nonprofit has developed a payment process for parents who cannot make purchases out of pocket. It is encouraging to see Florida take an innovative approach to delivering services and educational choice programs to more families. Florida’s nonprofit approach to ESA administration provides a good policy example to states considering ESA programs because such organizations have specific interest in the program’s success.

Rules and Regulations

  • Income Limit: None
  • Prior Year Public School Requirement: None
  • Geographic Limit: Statewide
  • Enrollment Cap: None
  • Account Cap: 90 percent of state and local funds reflected in the state funding formula and categorical grants for students with special needs
  •  Testing Mandates: State or National
  • Limited to students with 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, or students age 3, 4, or 5 who are considered “high-risk” due to developmental delays

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
    • 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

Governing Statutes

Legal History

In July 2014, Tom Faase, a high school social studies teacher in the Lee County Public School System, filed a lawsuit challenging Florida’s new Gardiner Scholarship Program. Plaintiff claimed the program was enacted in violation of the state constitution’s “single subject matter” rule. On December 30, 2014, the Circuit Court, Second Judicial Circuit, Leon County, Florida, dismissed the case, with prejudice. There was no appeal. The court closed the file on this case in February 2015. Tom Faasse, et al. v. Rick Scott, as Governor and Head of the Department of Revenue, et al.

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