Special Needs Scholarship

The Gardiner Scholarship program helps parents individualize the educational plans for their children with certain special needs was named the Gardiner Scholarship in January of 2016. The name honors Florida Senate President Andy Gardiner, who led the legislative effort to create the program, and his family. Gardiner and his wife Camille have championed the cause of children with unique abilities for many years. The Gardiners have two daughters and a son, Andrew, who has Down syndrome.

A different kind of scholarship: The Gardiner Scholarship is different than other state scholarships in that it allows parents to personalize the education of their children with unique abilities by directing money toward a combination of programs and approved providers. These include schools, therapists, specialists, curriculum, technology – even a college savings account.

The Gardiner Scholarship amount varies according to grade and county of residence. The average amount for most students in the 2017-18 school year is $10,000. Click here to view the 2017-18 Gardiner Scholarship Amounts (PDF).

  • Renewal students
    • The funding calculation remains the same, and defaults to a matrix that assigns the student to 90% of the 253 level, unless the student’s parent has asked the school district for a revised matrix.
  • New students
    • If the student does not have a matrix level of services, funding defaults to 90% of the 253 level.
    • If the student has a matrix level of services on file with the Florida Department of Education, due to public school enrollment, of 254 or 255, they will be funded at 90% of that matrix level, and they will not need to utilize the matrix review process established in the Gardiner law in order to receive the additional funding.
      • Most students with an IEP will not have a matrix level of services.
      • If you have an IEP, you are not required to request a matrix level. Please note that doing so could adjust your matrix level and corresponding amount of scholarship funding down to a lower level.

This scholarship is for Florida students 3 years old through 12th grade or age 22, whichever comes first, with 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, anaphylaxis, deaf, visually impaired, dual sensory impaired, traumatic brain injured, hospital or homebound as defined by the rules of the State Board of Education and evidenced by reports from local school districts, or three, four or five year-olds who are deemed high-risk due to developmental delays.

The term "hospital or homebound" includes a student who has a medically diagnosed physical or psychiatric condition or illness, as defined by the state board in rule, and who is confined to the home or hospital for more than 6 months.

  • Students need an IEP written in accordance with the rules of the State Board of Education or with the rules of another state OR the diagnosis of a Florida physician or psychologist or a physician who holds an active license issued by another state or territory of the United States, the District of Columbia or the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.
  • Students must be at least 3 or 4 on or before Sept 1. Students entering kindergarten must be 5 on or before Sept 1. Students entering first grade must be 6 on or before Sept 1.
  • Students can participate in the Gardiner Scholarship program as part of home education. However, they cannot be enrolled in a public school or receive any other state-sponsored scholarship (McKay Scholarship or the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship).

All students who are awarded a Gardiner Scholarship are entitled to receive the scholarship amounts listed in the document below, by county and by grade, for 2017-18. These amounts are based on public school spending for students with disabilities.

2017-18 Gardiner Scholarship Amounts (PDF)

RENEWAL FAMILIES: If your child is using a Step Up Gardiner Scholarship for the 2017-18 school year, click here to apply for the 2017-18 school year or to access your account using your existing user name and password. If you have forgotten the password, click the “Forgot Password” link for assistance. Before beginning your application, please be sure to select the appropriate school year from the dropdown menu.

NEW FAMILIES: We continue to accept applications from new families for the Gardiner Scholarship for the 2017-18 school year. All applicants must have an active email address to create an online application.

First-time applicants, please click here to begin your application.

Please note – If you are an applicant who:

  • has applied for the Gardiner Scholarship with Step Up in a previous year or
  • has started an application for the 2017-18 school year, but need to access your account to submit documents, check status and more, please click here to login using your existing user name and password. If you have forgotten the password, please see the “Forgot Password” link for assistance.

Funding is prorated based on the date the student is found eligible by the SFO.

  • Application must be received on or before August 1 and found eligible on or before September 1 = 100%
  • Application must be received on or before October 1 and found eligible on or before November 1 = 75%
  • Application must be received on or before January 1 and found eligible on or before February 1 = 50%
  • Application must be received on or before March 1 and found eligible on or before April 1 = 25%

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