Florida exhausts special needs scholarship funding

Travis Pillow

Demand for the nation’s largest education savings account program has outstripped supply.

Roughly 10,150 students are receiving Gardiner Scholarships this school year. That means the program has exhausted all the available funding for scholarships for the first time since its creation in 2014.

An additional 1,270 students have been approved for funding, but have not been able to receive it. That’s according to figures from Step Up For Students, the largest nonprofit organization that helps administer the program.

“We have definitely exhausted every last dollar, every last penny,” said Gina Lynch, Step Up’s Vice President of Operations. “There is healthy demand for the program.”The program allows families to pay for a wide range of education-related expenses, from therapy and homeschool curriculum to public school courses and private school tuition, for qualifying children with special needs.

Families on this year’s waiting list will be next in line for funding for the 2018-19 school year, after the families who currently receive scholarships and want them renewed.

For that reason, Step Up administrators are encouraging parents with special needs children to keep applying for the program. Students must have their applications approved, with all their supporting documentation, before Dec. 20 to be placed on the wait list.

The number of scholarships available next year will depend on the amount of money state lawmakers set aside when they start building budgets in January. Total funding for scholarships is currently just over $100 million.

According to EdChoice, Florida’s Gardiner scholarship for children with special needs is the largest program of its kind in the country. And it has continued to grow.

Step Up For Students helps administer the Gardiner Scholarship program and also publishes this blog.

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