Gardiner Scholarship Expansion

This legislation (SB 902, Sen. David Simmons/ HB 15, Rep. Jennifer Sullivan) expands eligibility for Gardiner Scholarships, extending the benefits of a customized education to thousands of children with special needs. An increase in program funding would make up to 20,000 scholarships available, empowering more parents to customize their child’s education.

Background:

In 2014, Florida created the Gardiner Scholarship Program (formally Personal Learning Scholarship Account) to provide the parents of public, private, and home education students with certain medically-related disabilities the ability to customize their child’s education. With an appropriation of $18.4 million, this landmark program served 1,500 students with unique abilities in its first year.

Since then, the eligibility was expanded to also include students with muscular dystrophy and those on the autism spectrum. With growing support and demand, funding has increased to $72 million. Today, more than 7,000 students benefit from the Gardiner Scholarship program and a customized education.

Bill Summary:

  • Expands eligibility to include children:
    • With rare diseases (such as Lou Gehrig’s disease, Crohn’s, and other disorders affecting less than 200,000 individuals);
    • With Anaphylaxis;
    • Identified by local school districts as orthopedically, hearing or visually impaired, traumatic brain injured or other health impaired; and
    • Aged 5 or older previously identified as “high risk.”
  • Allows for use of an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) that has not been reviewed/revised within the last 12 months and/or is from another state.
  • Allows for diagnosis of a disability from a physician licensed in another state.
  • Expands allowable services and authorizes uses of program funds to include music or art therapies and equine therapy services at certain centers.