Expansion of special needs scholarship accounts advances in Florida Legislature

Travis Pillow
Florida Senate President Andy Gardiner

Florida Senate President Andy Gardiner

More Florida students will be able to access the state’s new Personal Learning Scholarship Accounts under legislation now ready for floor votes in both chambers.

The bills, approved unanimously by House and Senate panels this week, would allow more students to qualify for the accounts, which help parents pay for tutoring, therapies, private school tuition and other education-related expenses for special needs children. The House proposes $31.9 million for 2015-16 and the Senate proposes $50 million. For the first year, the state appropriated $18.4 million.

This school year, two scholarship organizations have awarded more than 1,700 student accounts. One of those organizations, Step Up For Students, co-hosts this blog and employs the author of this post.

Both proposals would make other changes to the way the program is administered. The House plan would allow scholarship funding organizations to collect a 5 percent fee to cover the cost of administering the accounts, while revised Senate legislation would require would-be administrators to submit competitive proposals to the state Department of Education.

After the Senate Appropriations Committee approved its version of the legislation today, which would allow the program to cover 3- and 4-year-olds, Senate President Andy Gardiner said he hoped expanding the program would help meet demand for the scholarships.

“Parents are the best advocates for their children, and this demand is proof that they are seeking resources and tools to uniquely tailor learning to meet their child’s individual needs,” he said in a statement.

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