Need money for services or products…the new Gardiner Scholarship

Update!  We are applying for funding from Step Up for Students under the Gardiner Scholarship.  Applications are still being accepted at this time (deadline was listed at June 20, 2020).   If we are awarded this scholarship, we will no longer be using the McKay Scholarship based on our IEP.  The school that we attend takes this scholarship!

This would give us additional money that we could use to support our child’s education.  From tuition, therapy services to other products or materials that could add up to thousands of dollars that we would not have to spend out of pocket.


gardiner scholarshipThe Gardiner Scholarship (formerly the PLSA) is newly named to Florida as part of the Step Up for Students Scholarship program.  The Gardiner is for special needs students with a medical diagnosis.  Recently, I discussed the serious business of the McKay Scholarship.  The Gardiner is another excellent choice when looking for appropriate education for a special needs child.

The things that I consider when looking into the Gardiner

  1. it can be used for tuition or products
  2. it averages $10,000
  3. do not have to have an IEP to qualify
  4. flexibility with eligibility and determination


The first thing that is different about Gardiner than McKay is that the scholarship amount can be used for tuition or products.  You are not locked into a private school.  As the parent you can use speech therapy, OT, PT, materials or college prepaid account.  The money does not come to the parent, it does go to the qualifying specialist.  You also have to select a therapist that accepts Gardiner money.

I like that the scholarship averages $10,000 for each child. There is no complicated matrix, IEP or school district complying your score or remove services.  There are also benefits to applying for McKay if you have a special needs child that has many services because the Gardiner Scholarship will match the dollar amount of McKay with a matrix score of 254 or 255.  The highest amount for McKay is $22,000!

Students do not need to have an IEP to qualify for the Gardiner Scholarship.  A student can qualify with a medical diagnosis of:

Autism spectrum disorder, Cerebral Palsy, Down syndrome, an intellectual disability, Phelan-McDermid syndrome, Prader-Willi syndrome, Spina Bifida, Muscular Dystrophy, Williams syndrome or a high-risk child

If you do not have a medical diagnosis you can still apply for your child and use your IEP as evidence of a special need or disability.  For some parents who have a child that is 3 or 4, this scholarship would allow the child to receive one on one intensive therapy while waiting for an appointment for a developmentally pediatrician.    See my previous post about why medical diagnosis is so important.

There is more flexibility with determining and qualifying for the Gardiner Scholarship than McKay.  The parent has more choice on where the dollars are spent and families are able to apply for money before age 5. McKay is only for students that are kindergarten grade level and up.  I found that getting information about this scholarship is not openly discussed or handed out.  It is pretty much a hidden gem that only certain people will even whisper that they will take that scholarship.  Because it is hard to find therapists, let alone therapists that take the Gardiner Scholarships many parents are not informed.  There is also a commitment because the scholarship is for services and products, it can be used for tuition.  So, many parents need child care and therapy for their children.  When services are available for 5 hours a day then the parent has to pay for and rely on a sitter or be available to care for the child.  There are some complexities but it gives options.  Some parents want to stay home with their children until kindergarten, if your child had special needs this would be a way to access therapy without maxing out insurance and paying heavily out-of-pocket.  The key is to remember that parents only get ONE choice; either McKay, Gardiner, or Step Up Income Based Scholarship.

Check out the Gardiner Scholarship and see if it’s right for your family.

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Published by ruthfulness

A journey of education, access, advocating and love! Maximize your knowledge of autism through stories, tips and action.

19 thoughts on “Need money for services or products…the new Gardiner Scholarship

    1. Alex,
      Yes to all your requests for materials. the sensory equipment, ipad, computer would all be covered with Gardiner Scholarship. If you have a specific need outside of what is approved you can submit a pre-authorization form to see if it can be approved.
      I also just learned that We Rock the Spectrum gym is covered with Gardiner. So, passes to have our children play on sensory equipment at the facility would also be covered. I like that Gardiner is flexible to the needs of parents and special needs children. I would love to hear any success stories from you in using the funds.


  1. My daugther has been on a McKay scholarship since Kindergarden. She in 9 years old entering to 3rd grade this fall.Her Matrix is 253. Is it possible to switch from McKay to Gardiner? We are looking into a school that does not take McKay, and Gardiner could help me invest in her musical abilities at a specialized music afterschool program.
    Do I risk loosing McKay and not qualify for Gardiner ? Who can help me through this process? Thanks so much. Very helpful article.:)


  2. Hi Sandra, Please keep me posted about switching from McKay to Gardiner. I have a 9 year old that I am looking to switch from McKay to Gardiner. How did it work out? Can you help me through this process. TIA!


    1. This is the time of year to start applying for scholarship. If you want to apply for Gardiner scholarship you can do that. You wouldn’t lose your McKay scholarship until you enroll at the school that takes Gardiner. Then you would notify McKay. You cannot get the McKay back once you move on, unless you return to public school. It’s very complicated be sure to ask those questions for clarification as you go


  3. Thank you! Currently my daughter is on a Mckay scholarship at a private school. Next year can we switch to the Gardiner scholarship at the same school? I am thinking to have the school enroll her as a Gardiner scholarship kid and not under the Mckay for next school year. The school accepts both of these scholarships. Does it work that way?

    Thank you so much!


    1. The Gardiner scholarship does work differently. My understanding is the parent has more control. Where mckay can be applied directly from the website. You will do more to send the money where it needs to go


  4. We are applying this year for our speech delayed 4 year old and I am curious – how long does it take to get approved? Open enrollment starts in late April, and I am not sure if we would know if we are approved or not in order to enroll him into a school that accepts it :/


    1. Multiple layers to a response here. Renewal just opened and you will have to wait until April to submit an application. You will need documentation that your child fits an approved definition of disability. I would say high risk child fits that category. So, review that apply. I would enroll in your school of choice because you will need documentation of enrollment to get the scholarship. If you don’t get the scholarship have a backup plan and communication with your school is important. Tell them you cannot afford with out scholarship and if you don’t get it you will have to withdraw. Honestly, with applying in April you will maybe know in July or August and then will not have funds till fall. Its challenging for real! It will try your patience.


  5. Hello,
    I just qualified for the Gardiner Grant, but it says on the letter that he cannot attend a public school. My son has an IEP and was assigned to the ESE PK program (he’s 3) at a public school. Does this mean we won’t actually qualify for the Gardiner Grant now? He does get bused to a daycare afterwards for a few hours, so I don’t know if this helps. We’re currently spending a ton of money on behavioral therapy, so I thought I would be able to use it for this as he gets speech through the PK program he’s in. It looks like from what you wrote that the McKay Scholarship isn’t an option until my son is older anyway, is that correct? Also, what does the McKay cover if he is in a public school? From what I read it only gives you the option to attend a different public school than the one you’re zoned for. Sorry, I know that’s a lot of questions, but I’m just trying to meander through all of this.

    Thank you!


    1. Allie!
      Great questions 👏
      First…congratulations 🎉 on getting the Gardiner funds its an amazing opportunity for alternative choices to public school.
      So…yes if you want more flexibility for services you have to leave the public school and find a private school or therapy ABA company that can take him each day.
      Not sure where you are located
      Email me if you want…the location and I can see if I know any connections.
      So the Mackay will also let you leave public school or be bused to a special assignment in district. The Mackay will most likely be less than Gardiner at his age. I know the new law drops the attend public school obligations to get mckay ..I think July 1 it takes effect.

      I think the advantages of Gardiner are in therapy. Do you have amazing health insurance? My work insurance is refused to pay all claims so having Gardiner funds will pay for therapy. Many aba clinics will take a child for 6 hours a day like school and provide aba therapy.
      Congratulations again on having another option to help your child!


      1. We are currently getting ABA therapy. The therapist goes to his school and to his daycare. I really didn’t want to take him out of the public school since it’s a program specially designed for students with learning disabilities. I don’t know of a private school in the area that has a program geared towards this. He is currently getting 150 minutes of speech therapy included in his program. I guess I just don’t understand why I wouldn’t be able to get this scholarship money to use towards his ABA therapy and also keep him in the public school program. It doesn’t seem right that I would have to take him out of that and go to a private school where the services might not even be geared towards what he needs.


      2. Yes! Agree. But the state forces parents to choose. You can’t have both.
        So, for us the public school wouldn’t allow the private aba therapy to come in. They also would not give us that many speech therapy minutes. We went to McKay and now Gardiner to get the therapy needed.
        If you like the public program you don’t have to accept the funds and can reapply next year of to
        You want to move him to a private school or clinic


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