Three months after being signed into law, Florida’s new parental choice scholarship for students with significant special needs passed the 1,000 mark on Thursday. That’s 1,000 students who were awarded a new type of K-12 scholarship that allows parents to individualize their education.
The new Personal Learning Scholarship Accounts (PLSA) are available to students with autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy and five other categories of special needs. Parents can use the accounts to pay for a wide array of educational options, including private school tuition, therapists, tutors, curricula and materials and even contributions to a prepaid college fund.
Gov. Rick Scott signed the new parental choice program into law after the Florida Legislature passed it last spring. The state set aside $18.4 million for it, enough for an estimated 1,800 students. Step Up For Students, a nonprofit scholarship funding organization that is authorized to administer the program (and which co-hosts this blog), opened the application process on July 18.
Through Friday morning, parents had started nearly 3,700 applications.
The milestone in awarded scholarships comes as PLSA parents received encouraging news from a courtroom in Tallahassee. In July, the Florida Education Association filed suit against SB 850, the bill that created the PLSA program. But on Wednesday, Leon County Circuit Judge Charles Francis ruled the FEA member named as plaintiff did not have standing to bring the case. FEA has 15 days to file an amended complaint.
The state Board of Education is scheduled on Monday to adopt a new rule regulating the PLSA, which will open the door for the state to seed the accounts with the appropriate scholarship amounts. The statewide average is roughly $10,000.
The variety of potential uses for the money adds a level of complexity compared to traditional scholarship programs that only cover tuition. As a result, state education officials have drawn up rules that determine how the money will be distributed to scholarship funding organizations (including Step Up) for the parents whose applications have been approved. The scholarship organizations will then reimburse parents for approved education-related expenses.
The proposed rules would also allow the state to prevent scholarship organizations or education providers from receiving funding through the program if they don’t handle the money properly or meet other legal requirements.