Funding for Gardiner, Reading scholarships remains intact in 2020-21 state budget

Lisa Buie

More than 600 parents, educators and students rallied at the state Capitol in January asking for an expansion to the Gardiner Scholarship program.

A $42 million increase to the Gardiner Scholarship program for students with unique abilities has been spared in a state budget totaling $92.2 billion, despite a more than $1 billion spending veto.

Gov. Ron DeSantis earlier today signed the state budget for the 2020-21 fiscal year that in addition to the Gardiner expansion, which brings the total amount allocated to the program to $189.9 million, includes $7.6 million for the Reading Scholarship Account program. That program is open to public school students in grades 3-5 who experience reading difficulty.

Both programs are administered by Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog.

In a year that DeSantis vowed to make “the year of the teacher,” the budget includes $500 million to raise the minimum salary for public K-12 teachers. The budget also includes per-student public school funding of $7,793, an increase over current year spending by $137 for each student.

The governor signed the budget more than five months after 600 parents, educators and students converged on the Capitol for a rally to express their appreciation for the Gardiner program and to ask for extra financial support so that more families could participate.

The scholarship currently serves more than 13,000 students, but about 3,500 have been waiting for additional funding.

Gardiner differs from other state scholarships in that it allows parents to personalize their child’s education by directing money toward a combination of programs and approved providers. Approved expenses include tuition, therapy, curriculum, technology and a college savings account. Unspent money can roll over from year to year.

Gardiner Scholarship amounts vary according to grade and county. The average amount for most students in the 2019-20 school year was $10,400.

The Reading Scholarship Account, created in 2018, offers parents access to education savings accounts worth $500 each to pay for tuition and fees related to part-time tutoring, summer and after-school literacy programs, instructional materials and curriculum related to reading or literacy.

The new budget takes effect Wednesday.

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