Take Control of Your Child’s Education with the Gardiner Scholarship
For the vast majority of children in the United States, a good education is largely contingent on the school they attend. In most states, this depends on where the child lives and limits school choice to those parents who can either afford to move to a better school district or pay private school tuition. However, in Florida, this underperformance in K-12 public schools has been counteracted with a variety of school choice programs, vouchers, scholarship tax credits, and online learning alternatives for parents to take control of their child’s education. One state-approved nonprofit scholarship funding organization, for example, awarded scholarships to approximately 99,113 economically disadvantaged students during the 2020-21 school year.
In today’s brief article, we’ll be reviewing how you can take advantage of just one of the five key scholarships available for Florida schoolchildren through Step Up For Students in Clearwater, FL — the Gardiner Scholarship. This scholarship program, whose name honors Florida Senate President Andy Gardiner who led the legislative effort to create it, helps parents across Florida individualize the education plans for their children with certain special needs. This is accomplished by directing money toward a combination of programs and approved providers, including schools, therapists, curriculum, technology, and a college savings account.
Determining Eligibility for the Gardiner Scholarship
Since the Gardiner Scholarship is intended for children with certain special needs, your student is only eligible if he or she has one of the following disabilities:
- Autism spectrum disorder
- Muscular dystrophy
- Cerebral palsy
- Down syndrome
- Phelan McDermid syndrome
- Prader-Willi syndrome
- Spina bifida
- Williams syndrome
- Intellectual disability (severe cognitive impairment)
- Rare diseases as defined by the National Organization for Rare Disorders
- Visually impaired
- Dual sensory impaired
- Traumatic brain injured
- Hospital or homebound as defined by State Board of Education
- Deemed high-risk due to developmental delays (applies to 3-5 year-olds)
In order to prove that your student is eligible, you will need to provide validation of his or her diagnosis from a Florida physician, psychologist, or physician who holds an active license issued by another state or territory of the United States. To demonstrate that your student is dual sensory impaired or hospital or homebound, a current Individualized Education Program (IEP) is required. And while students can participate in the scholarship program as part of home education, they cannot be enrolled in a public school or receive any other state-sponsored scholarship, such as the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship. Lastly, this scholarship is only available for students 3 years old through 12th grade or age 22, whichever comes first.
Preparing for the 2021-22 Application Season
For those parents who are looking to take control of their child’s education and believe they may be eligible for the Gardiner Scholarship, now is the time to begin to prepare. The Gardiner Scholarship application for the 2021-22 school year will first be available to renewal students until April 30, 2021. Afterward, the application will then open to new students, including those on the 2020-21 waitlist. After the funding priority period has passed, applications will be processed in the following order: (1) students who were on the 2020-21 waitlist and (2) new and renewal students in the order they were deemed eligible.
As with most scholarships, applications are processed on a first-come, first-served basis. If funding is not available at the time an award determination is placed, your student may be placed on the waitlist. For families applying for this scholarship for the first time, it’s important to begin collecting the following items as soon as possible:
- Documentation of your student’s diagnosis for a physician or psychologist with an active license issued by a state or territory of the United States OR an IEP written in accordance with the rules of the State Board of Education
- Documentation indicating proof of Florida residency
- Birth certificate for students in the first grade and below
The Gardiner Scholarship amount varies according to grade and county of residence; however, the average amount of students in the 2019-20 school year was $10,400. This represents 90 percent of the 253 matrix level of funding unless your student has a matrix level of services on file with the Florida Department of Education due to public school enrollment. Most students with an IEP will not have a matrix level of services. For more information, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with Lakeside Christian School — one of the Step Up For Students participating schools in Clearwater, FL.
If you would like to learn more about Lakeside Christian School, one of the Step Up For Students participating schools, please give us a call at (727) 239-7808 or schedule a tour of our campus.