Need money for services or products…the Gardiner and McKay Scholarships are now Family Empowerment UA

Most read and most popular article I have ever written, still continues to get updates. I’ve left the last update under the heart banner.

As of 2022-2023 school year both the Gardiner and McKay Scholarships have been combined into the Step Up for Students Unique Abilities (UA).

Just to be candid and clear, I’ve got a now 11 year old ASD son that has definitely benefited from this scholarship opportunity. To add to this candid, I’m a public school teacher and I don’t send my children to public schools. I try to stay out of the political debate and the autism political debates. I truly consider myself magenta. Magenta the true color of having both red and blue colors. Magenta on the spectrum is social awareness.

My best friend, from Thrive Consulting and Therapy, has taught me a very powerful tool that works and often asks the question: is it working? This powerful tool is the ACT matrix. I totally recommend this tool; truly amazing. So, often when we are looking at utilizing these scholarship opportunities we have heavy and difficult choices to make. This ACT matrix can really help you and your family members, therapists and educators come together to find a common purpose and move towards what’s important to you and how to make that work.

At the age of five, I made a big move to pull my son from the public school system and promised that no matter what we’d find a way to teach him and get him what he needed. At the age of six, still completely non-verbal, highly sensory seeking son went to a clinic setting. We continued with this opportunity until they school closed when he would be first grade; so about two school years. We entered a private school with a high level of support and dealt with all the covid closures. We survived getting politely kicked out of that school to begin a private school for students with autism. We went from self-contained to inclusion, then homeschool covid, finally back to self-contained. The school we have found will go until high school! We will stay till the end or until it’s no longer working for him. Now, my 11 year old is talking non stop and is highly independent and self sufficient. Academically, he is behind a typically peer but he is working at his abilities and is being challenged to learn and improve.

None of this improvement would be possible without the opportunity to change and move educational settings and schools with the Step Up for Students scholarship.

Now labelled the Family Empowerment Scholarship for Unique Abilities.

Under the new legislation, students who received the McKay Scholarship to attend a private school must transition to the FES-UA for the 2022-23 school year. All students who remain eligible will have funding.
Speak with your school about which Scholarship Funding Organization (SFO) is best for your family. McKay families will need to work with an SFO, such as Step Up For Students. Not every school works with every SFO, so it is important to know which SFO your school prefers.

If you are thinking about utilizing the scholarship for your child, my first suggestion is to ask if the current situation is not working? How is it not working? Consider writing this down and thinking about questions you have that are unanswered. Do you know what your child needs? What may help or might make learning more successful?

Next, have you found a private school? Will they meet your child’s special needs? Legally speaking (not a lawyer, but just here to advocate) they don’t have to follow your IEP. Next, if you found a school, what if any scholarships will they accept. Now, is the time of year that open enrollment is occurring. Most schools will hold your spot, pending scholarship. Some schools will even consider giving you back the money or registration fees if you don’t get the scholarship money! Just ask!

Apply as soon as the application opens. Go now to the website and sign up for the family interest updates for the 2023-2024 application.

Additional information that is pretty cool (not political)

Any sibling of a student who get the UA scholarship, also gets the Family Empowerment Scholarship. You can decide to add the sibling(s) to the scholarship. Those siblings don’t need to attend the same school as the child with unique abilities.

The Family Empowerment Scholarship is available for financial need. Police officers and active military members get this scholarship regardless of financial need, they just complete the paperwork.

Florida has made several additional options for funds for private education. If you don’t succeed the first time or end up waitlisted, look for other opportunities and options to help meet your child’s needs.

Leave your questions for more feedback,

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.

The 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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