Does your child have an IEP or 504 in the state of Florida?
Florida was the first state to implement a scholarship like McKay. McKay allows for parents of special needs children to use funds allocated to the public school for private school tuition. (you can use McKay to transfer to another public school as long as that school has availability) The idea within McKay is that parents have more choice in how their child is educated and to be sure that funds are being used for a Free Public Appropriate Education (FAPE). The key is that parents must select an accredited public or private school that will accept McKay dollars. The reason that McKay gets so serious is dollars. Students that have the highest matrix score can be awarded up to $22,000!
So, I’m going to try to give you the key points that you have to know when considering McKay. There is so much information about deadlines, % of money received, how to apply, how a child earns the money and how you can lose the money. Visit the Florida Department of Education to read all the details and frequently asked questions.
The key concepts that I found helpful were related to
Attendance is key to McKay eligibility because the state determines funding with FTE (full-time equivalent). We call FTE week “date certain” and teachers have to verify attendance for all their students for each day and each period if applicable. Students have to attend at least one day during FTE week in both October and February periods. Students can not withdraw from public school and not enroll in a private school to be eligible for the scholarship. This essentially means that you can not show lapse in care or education; that would mean you have a break in service and would not be eligible for the money even when you have an IEP. So, the moment you have hardship at your public school and what to withdraw your child. DON’T. You keep them home and find another school. Start sending then to that new school if you need to then apply within the date range for McKay. You can get a percentage of the scholarship throughout the year. The payments are broken into quarters and you could use a percent of the scholarship within the school year. Obviously, as the parent any amount not covered by the scholarship would have to be paid by you.
The matrix for the McKay scholarship is vital to maximizing your score and payout. The matrix scores are between 251 and 255. Only 5% of applicants score a 255 which has the highest payout. That payout could be close to $22,000. The matrix score is determined by the school district. Parents have no legal authority to “score” the McKay matrix in preparation to the final score. School’s have to create a matrix score within 30 days. Technically, the matrix score should already be done but the district still has time to complete the application via the state’s online application center. There are five domains that make up the score are: Curriculum and Learning, Social/Emotional Behavior, Independent Functioning, Healthcare and Communication. This matrix score can change during the school year depending on services received within the IEP. However, once you use your McKay dollars for private school then they will not change (unless you go back into public school).
There are a LOT of qualifiers/eligibility determining factors; please review the state website again for more detailed and specific guidelines. The things that stuck with me regarding McKay was that you have to use the money for private tuition and that the money goes directly to the school. The matrix score is based solely off the IEP or 504. The child does not have to have a medical diagnosis; they can just have an IEP that qualifies them for services in the public school setting. A 504 plan does qualify for McKay, however, the matrix with the five domains is not used. Most families should expect to see less than $5500 with a 504 plan.
There are so many details to the McKay. If you read through the Florida Department of Education website you can make sure that your child has the checklist of basics before you fill out your student intent form. Once you have completed the intent form you will be sent a confirmation number to use to find out the matrix code and eligibility determination. Once you have your amount awarded you can select a private school to enroll your child in. If you are not satisfied with your matrix score then I would recommend hiring an advocate to review your IEP to determine if you can raise the matrix score to provide additional funding. I would recommend the IEP Advocate, I haven’t paid to use them but have been to workshops and they are very knowledgeable and detailed oriented.
Our family is waiting to see what our matrix score will be and then determine if will use the McKay scholarship for private tuition. We will be comparing our McKay to our potential Gardiner scholarship amount.
Apply for McKay.