How the Gardiner and McKay Scholarships Can Help Florida Students With Disabilities

Amy Nielsen
Little girl reading a book.
Little girl reading a book.

Finding the right educational setting for a child with disabilities can be both challenging and costly. Fortunately, if you live in the state of Florida and have a child with a defined disability, there’s help. The Gardiner and McKay Scholarships give families educational options and assistance with those expenses.

What is the Gardiner Scholarship?

The Gardiner is a scholarship for children that are 3 years old through 12th grade, who are eligible for enrollment in a public school and have a defined disability diagnosed by a licensed physician or psychologist. The student can be enrolled in public school during the application process but must withdraw upon receiving the scholarship in order to use the funds.

The Gardiner funds can be used for private school tuition, to supply educational materials, curriculum, and digital devices to families who homeschool, for specialized therapies, to fund specialized summer or after-school educational programs or towards the child’s Florida Prepaid College Program.

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The deadline to apply for previous recipients is June 30 and for new recipients, applications are processed in the order they are received. The scholarship is typically around $10,000 per student, depending on the county of residence and the child’s individual needs. The total amount is limited, so the earliest applicants are more likely to receive funding.

The Gardiner does not automatically renew, so families must monitor deadlines and reapply each year. Children remain eligible until 12th grade or age 22, whichever comes first, provided they do not enroll in a public school.
Contact Info:
www.stepupforstudents.org
1-877-735-7837

What is the McKay Scholarship?

The McKay is a scholarship for Florida public school students with a documented disability and either an IEP or 504 plan who were enrolled in a Florida public school the year prior and are at least 5 years of age by September 1 of the upcoming school year.

The scholarship provides families of students with disabilities two options; a public school voucher or funding towards private school tuition. The voucher allows the family to request attendance at another school either within the same district or in an adjoining district. If the family chooses to enroll their child at a private school, the funding amount is what it would have cost to fund the child’s public education or the amount of tuition and fees at the private school the child will be attending whichever is less.

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You can apply at any time, but the eligibility deadline for 100% of the state-funded amount is July 3. If you apply by September 2, the maximum amount is 75%; by December 3, the amount drops to 50%, and January 31, it drops to 25%.

The McKay automatically renews each year, and children remain eligible until 12th grade or age 22, whichever comes first, provided they do not enroll in a public school.

A student who is attending a private school on a McKay Scholarship can return to a public school using the school voucher but must notify the school district and they will determine which public school options are available.

Contact Info:
www.floridaschoolchoice.org
1-800-447-1636
To reach the Florida Department of Education by email, follow the Contact Us link on their site.

The Bottom Line

Although each scholarship is structured differently in regards to eligibility requirements and what funding can be used for, they both offer Florida families of children with disabilities the ability to customize their child’s education. If you have any questions or need any help in applying, please reach out to Gardiner and McKay directly or contact Collaborative Corner.

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For a side by side comparison of the scholarships, you can download this PDF for more information.

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