Florida Legislature approves $42 million funding boost for Gardiner Scholarships

Lisa Buie

Efforts advanced by parents, educators and students at a rally at the Capitol in January bore fruit today with lawmakers’ decision to provide additional funding for the Gardiner Scholarship program. Photo: COLIN HACKLEY

Florida House and Senate members today unanimously approved a $93.2 billion state budget that includes an additional $42 million for the Gardiner Scholarship program, an education savings account for students with unique abilities.

The approval brings the total amount allocated to the program to $189,901,004 and opens the program to more families.

“I am thankful the Florida state lawmakers, even during this time of great uncertainty, are putting the needs of Florida’s exceptional and most vulnerable kids at the forefront of their agenda,” said Katie Swingle of Winter Haven after learning of the vote. Swingle, whose 12-year-old son, Gregory, receives a Gardiner Scholarship, was among hundreds of parents, teachers and students who attended a January rally at the Capitol to encourage lawmakers to support a funding increase.

Created in 2014, the scholarship currently serves more than 13,000 students. It differs from other state scholarship programs in that it provides an education savings account that parents can use to direct money toward a combination of programs and approved providers. Approved expenses include tuition, therapy, curriculum, technology and a college savings account.

Lawmakers also allocated $7.6 million for the Reading Scholarship Account program, open to public school students in grades 3-5 who experience reading difficulty.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle praised the budget as responsible and realistic.

“This is a bipartisan effort,” said Rep. Wengay Newton, D-St. Petersburg. “We’ve got to be looking at ways to survive and work together. I think we’re in a great place.”

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