Legislative Updates

What to know

On May 11, 2021, Governor DeSantis signed legislation that expands access to education choice scholarships. These changes went into effect on July 1, 2021. 

The new legislation allows more families than ever to be eligible for a scholarship. Families may apply now! 

Following is a list of students eligible as of July 1, 2021 and next steps they may take:

  • Students of families with higher income (i.e. nearly $100,000 for a family of 4) – FAMILIES MAY APPLY NOW
  • Siblings of students who receive the Family Empowerment Scholarship (formerly Gardiner)- FAMILIES MAY CLICK HERE FOR INSTRUCTIONS AND TO APPLY 
  • Dependent children of a member of the United States Armed Forces, including Reservists – FAMILIES MAY CLICK HERE FOR INSTRUCTIONS AND TO APPLY 
  • Students with one of the following diagnoses: speech impairment; language impairment; orthopedic impairment; other health impairment; emotional or behavioral disability; or specific learning disability, including but not limited to dyslexia, dyscalculia, or developmental aphasiaFAMILIES MAY CLICK HERE FOR INSTRUCTIONS AND TO APPLY

Note: Students currently enrolled in private school are now eligible for a Family Empowerment Scholarship, too!

This new legislation consolidated the number of scholarship programs by rolling the Gardiner Scholarship and McKay Scholarship into the Family Empowerment Scholarship. This change will happen in two phases:

For the 2021-22 school year, the Family Empowerment Scholarship expanded to include an Education Savings Account for children with unique abilities (or special needs) along with its existing option for K-12 private school. Students who benefited from a Gardiner Scholarship have been rolled into the Family Empowerment Scholarship for students with Unique Abilities (FES-UA) for the 2021-22 school year  (as long as they have submitted their renewal application), as have any families that applied based on previous Gardiner eligibility categories. The authorized uses of funds for this option remains the same as they were for the program formerly known as Gardiner. Additionally, the new legislation eliminated the prior public school attendance requirement for the Family Empowerment Scholarship private school and transportation option.

For the 2022-23 school year, the McKay Scholarship program will be rolled into the Family Empowerment Scholarship. Students benefiting from the McKay Scholarship at that time will be transitioned to the Family Empowerment Scholarship for students with Unique Abilities.

Step Up For Students hosted informational webinars about scholarship program changes due to this new legislation. You can find those webinars by clicking here.

To view legislative impacts by scholarship program, please click each scholarship name to expand.

The qualifying household income level has increased, allowing families of higher income access to the scholarship. The household income eligibility criteria has risen to nearly $100,000 for a family of 4. If you qualify under these new guidelines, you may click here to APPLY TODAY. Please click here to view the updated income eligibility criteria for all household sizes.

Priority will be given to students who are under the 185% of federal poverty guidelines ($49,025 for a family of 4).

To view the 2021-2022 award amounts, please click here

On July 1, 2021, the Gardiner Scholarship Program rolled into the Family Empowerment Scholarship option for students with unique abilities/special needs.

If your student received a Gardiner Scholarship for the 2020-21 school year, please take a moment to renew your student’s scholarship for the 2021-22 school year if you have not already. (Families who have renewed their scholarship for the 2021-22 school year, will NOT need to apply for the Family Empowerment Scholarship at this time.)

Please click on the Family Empowerment Scholarship banner for more information. Renew your scholarship by clicking here.

On July 1, 2021, the Family Empowerment Scholarship expanded to include current Gardiner Scholarship students and added new eligibility criteria.

The Family Empowerment Scholarship will have two types of awards depending on how a student qualifies for the scholarship.

Option 1: Private school or transportation to a public school

Eligibility requirements to enroll at a private school or for transportation to a public school:

  • The qualifying household income level has increased, allowing families of higher income access to the scholarship. The household income eligibility criteria has risen to nearly $100,000 for a family of 4. If you qualify under the new guidelines, we recommend applying today by clicking here.
  • Student is currently placed, or during the previous school year was placed, in foster care or out-of-home care.
  • The student is a sibling of a student who is a recipient of the Family Empowerment Scholarship (including renewal Gardiner students) and resides in the same household. This includes siblings of students who qualify based on a disability, regardless of household income. If you have a student eligible by this criteria, please click here for instructions on how to apply. 
  • The student is a dependent child of a member of the United States Armed Forces, including Reservists, regardless of household income. If you have a student eligible by this criteria, please click here for instructions on how to apply. 

Additional Information:

  • Priority will be given to students who are under the 185% of federal poverty guidelines ($49,025 for a family of 4).
  • Allows digital devices and internet access (when necessary) provided by the private school to be paid with the scholarship for income-based students.
  • For the 2021-2022 award amounts, please click here

Option 2: Education Savings Account (ESA) (currently known as the Gardiner Scholarship)

Following are the eligibility requirements for the Education Savings Account for students with unique abilities/special needs. If you have a student eligible by criteria with an asterisk, please click here for instructions on how to apply.

  • The student is 3 years old on or before September 1, is eligible to enroll in kindergarten through grade 12, in the state of Florida or is under 22 on or before September 1
  • Has one of the following disabilities:
    1. Autism Spectrum disorder
    2. Cerebral palsy
    3. Down syndrome
    4. Intellectual disability
    5. Speech impairment*
    6. Language impairment*
    7. Orthopedic impairment*
    8. Other health impairment*
    9. Emotional or a behavioral disability*
    10. Specific learning disability, including, but not limited to dyslexia, dyscalculia, or developmental aphasia*
    11. Phelan-McDermid syndrome
    12. Prader-Willi syndrome
    13. Spina bifida
    14. High-risk child
    15. Muscular dystrophy
    16. Williams syndrome
    17. Rare diseases which affect patient populations of fewer than 200,000 individuals in the United States, as defined by the National Organization for Rare Disorders
    18. Anaphylaxis
    19. Hearing impaired
    20. Visually impaired
    21. Traumatic brain injured
    22. Hospital or homebound
    23. Dual sensory impaired
  • The student has an IEP or has received a diagnosis from a licensed physician or psychologist.

Students who qualify for an Education Savings Account (ESA) may use their funds for the following purposes (same as the current Gardiner Scholarship):

  1. Instructional materials, including digital devices, digital periphery devices, and assistive technology devices that allow a student to access instruction or instructional content and training on the use of and maintenance agreements for these devices.
  2. Curriculum
  3. Specialized services by approved providers that may include, but not limited to;
    1. Applied behavior analysis services
    2. Speech-language pathology
    3. Occupational therapy
    4. Physical therapy
    5. Listening and spoken language services
  4. Tuition or fees associated with full-time or part-time enrollment in:
    1. a home education program
    2. an eligible private school
    3. an eligible postsecondary educational institution or a program offered by the postsecondary educational institution
    4. a private tutoring program
    5. a virtual program offered by a department-approved private online provider that meets the provider qualifications specified in s. 1002.45(2)(a), the Florida Virtual School as a private paying student, or an approved online course offered pursuant to s. 1003.499 or s. 1004.0961.
  5. Fees for nationally standardized, norm-referenced achievement tests, Advanced Placement Examinations, industry certification examinations, assessments related to postsecondary education, or other assessments.
  6. Contributions to the Stanley G. Tate Florida Prepaid College Program,
  7. Contracted services provided by a public school or school district, including classes.
  8. Tuition and fees for part-time tutoring services
  9. Fees for specialized summer education programs.
  10. Fees for specialized after-school education programs.
  11. Transition services provided by job coaches.
  12. Fees for an annual evaluation of educational progress by a state-certified teacher
  13. Tuition and fees associated with programs offered by Voluntary Prekindergarten Education Program providers
  14. Fees for services provided at a center that is a member of the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International.
  15. Fees for services provided by a therapist who is certified by the Certification Board for Music Therapists or credentialed by the Art Therapy Credentials Board, Inc.

For more details on this list, please see the parent handbook by clicking here.

Additional Information:

  • Aligns the formula used to calculate the scholarship amounts for the Gardiner and McKay programs to the school district formulas and provides a grandfathering provision to ensure the same level of funding for the current Gardiner Scholarship students and McKay students. ESA funds would be deposited into each student’s account on a quarterly basis.
  • For the 2021-2022 award amounts, please click here. If your student received funding in the 2020-2021 school year under the Gardiner scholarship, your student will receive either the new award amount or the 2020-21 award amount, whichever in higher. 
  • Removes the requirement that the sworn compliance statement be notarized for the Family Empowerment Scholarship ESA program.

No impact at this time. Please continue to check back for updates.

For the 2021-22 school year, there is no change to the McKay Scholarship program. The program will continue to be managed by the Florida Department of Education. If you have already applied for the McKay Scholarship for the 2021-22 school year, you do not need to take further action.

Beginning in the 2022-23 school year, the McKay Scholarship will be rolled into the Family Empowerment Scholarship. The Florida Department of Education and Step Up For Students will communicate with scholarship families as this time nears.  

Florida Tax Credit Scholarship FAQs

Will the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship change to a state funded program? 
The Florida Tax Credit Scholarship remains a tax credit scholarship funded by corporate donations.  

When will we know what the scholarship amounts will be for the 2021-22 school year?
For the Family Empowerment Scholarship private school option and the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship 2021-22 award amounts, please click here

For the Family Empowerment Scholarship for students with Unique Abilities 2021-22 award amounts, please click here

For the Hope Scholarship 2021-22 award amounts, please click here

Does the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship still get the 2 Florida Virtual School courses? Does the Family Empowerment Scholarship?
The Florida Tax Credit Scholarship still includes language to allow students to take no more than  2 state-funded virtual courses. The Family Empowerment Scholarship for income-based students does not include that language. Students who participate in the Family Empowerment Scholarship will be able to use their scholarship funds for the Florida Virtual School as a private-paying student.  Schools may also want to consider building Florida Virtual School courses into their tuition and fee schedule.

Will distance learning still be funded next year?
No. There is no emergency order from the Dept. of Education this year. Scholarship students need to be attending the brick and mortar location of the scholarship-participating private school and having regular and direct contact at the school. This is the case for ALL scholarship program students, including the FES-UA students, who are enrolled in a participating private school and paying tuition and fees.

I own a private school or am the principal of a private school, are my children eligible for a scholarship?
Per Florida Statute SB2126; “Owner or operator” includes: An owner, operator, superintendent, or principal of an eligible private school or a person with equivalent decision-making authority over an eligible private school.

An owner or operator may only qualify for a Family Empowerment Scholarship if they meet all other eligibility requirements. However, they may not receive a Florida Tax Credit Scholarship.

Gardiner Scholarship FAQs

Will any more Gardiner students come off the waitlist for the 2020-21 school year? 
There will not be any additional students funded from the waitlist for the 2020-21 school year. 

Will Gardiner Scholarship students receive their funds quarterly into their accounts instead of in one lump sum?
Yes, the Gardiner Scholarship has been merged into the Family Empowerment Scholarship for the 2021-22 school year with scholarship funds being deposited quarterly into scholarship accounts.  

Will any remaining funds in Gardiner Accounts automatically roll over into a Family Empowerment Scholarship Education Savings Account?Yes, Gardiner students who renew their scholarship will be transitioned into the Family Empowerment Scholarship and their funds will have their remaining Gardiner funds rolled over into the Family Empowerment Scholarship for the 2021-22 school year. 

Does the timeframe for inactivity of the Gardiner Scholarship accounts carry over to the Family Empowerment Scholarship? (i.e. if an account has been inactive for 1 year on Gardiner, does that count toward the timeframe for Family Empowerment to determine inactivity and account closure?).
Yes, because the account carries over, any inactivity also carries over.

If a Gardiner student does not renew for the 2021-22 school year, will their funds stay in their Education Savings Accounts?
No new funds will be received, but any balance remains until there has been two consecutive years of inactivity (no spending) at which time the account will be closed, and the full balance returned to the State.   

Do students who participated in the Gardiner or McKay Scholarships have to qualify for the Family Empowerment Scholarship based on their income?
No. There will be two separate parts of the Family Empowerment Scholarship, one for students with special needs and one for students who qualify based on household income. Students with special needs and unique abilities do not have to qualify for a scholarship based on their household income.

Are the sibling(s) of Gardiner students eligible for a scholarship?
Siblings who reside in the same household as a student who qualifies for the Family Empowerment Scholarship program are eligible under the private school portion of the program. This includes siblings of Gardiner students who renew for the 2021-22 school year. 

Does the child who does not have a disability need to income-qualify?
No, the sibling qualifies regardless of the household income for an award under the private school portion of the scholarship (not the Education Savings Account program for students with special needs).   

Do the siblings of Gardiner students have to attend the same private school?
No.  

What if the Gardiner student is home educated, but the sibling does not have a disability, is the sibling eligible for an Education Savings Account to be home educated?
No. The sibling qualifies for the private school portion of the program. If using the private school option, the student must attend an eligible, participating private school.

Are siblings of students with disabilities counted against the maximum number of scholarships available for the Education Savings Accounts?
The siblings of student with disabilities are counted toward the maximum number of scholarship available under private school portion of the Family Empowerment Scholarship and the funds may only be used for private school scholarships. (Not the Education Savings Account for special needs students).  

Will Gardiner Scholarship students whose scholarship amount will be grandfathered into the Family Empowerment Scholarship, only be grandfathered in for one year?
No, renewal Gardiner Scholarship students will keep their grandfathered scholarship amount from the 2020-21 school year as long as that amount is higher than the amount for any future year. 

How do I apply for the new Family Empowerment Scholarship for students with special needs?
You can see instruction on how to apply by clicking here. If you have already renewed your Gardiner of McKay Scholarship, no further action is needed at this time. 

How do I submit an application for the siblings of my Gardiner student?
You can see instructions on how to apply by clicking here

Will all students with any disabilities be eligible for an Education Savings Account in 2022-2023?
The new law provides a list of eligible disabilities. A new student must have one of the listed disabilities to qualify for a Family Empowerment Scholarship Education Savings Account in 2021-22.  

Can a summer academic camp be covered with Gardiner funding?
This may currently be covered, but it may require special documentation from the student’s therapist, tutor, etc.

For frequently asked questions from our program updates webinars, please click here

Family Empowerment Scholarship FAQs

Do students who participated in the Gardiner or McKay Scholarships have to qualify for the Family Empowerment Scholarship based on their income?
No. There will be two separate parts of the Family Empowerment Scholarship, one for students with special needs and one for students who qualify based on household income. Students with special needs and unique abilities do not have to qualify for a scholarship based on their household income. 

Will Gardiner Scholarship students receive their funds quarterly into their accounts instead of in one lump sum?
Yes, the Gardiner Scholarship has been merged into the Family Empowerment Scholarship for the 2021-22 school year with scholarship funds being deposited quarterly into scholarship accounts. 

Will any remaining funds in Gardiner Accounts automatically roll over into a Family Empowerment Scholarship Education Savings Account?
Gardiner students who renew their scholarship will be transitioned into the Family Empowerment Scholarship and their funds will have their remaining Gardiner funds rolled over into the Family Empowerment Scholarship for the 2021-22 school year.

Does the timeframe for inactivity of the Gardiner Scholarship accounts carry over to the Family Empowerment Scholarship? (i.e. if an account has been inactive for 1 year on Gardiner, does that count toward the timeframe for Family Empowerment to determine inactivity and account closure?).
Yes, because the account carries over, any inactivity also carries over. 

When McKay Scholarship students enter the Family Empowerment Scholarship (FES) in the 2022-23 school year, will Gardiner students have to compete with McKay students for the same spots as new families?
No, when the McKay Scholarship merges into the Family Empowerment Scholarship in the 2022-23 school year, all McKay students in the 21-22 school year will not count against the FES student limit under the cap.  This means that the McKay students will not use any of the spaces available for other students. Gardiner students in 20-21 would have priority for spaces under the FES cap in 21-22, and would have priority as renewal students under the cap in future years. 

Are the sibling(s) of Gardiner students eligible for a scholarship?
Siblings who reside in the same household as a student who qualifies for the Family Empowerment Scholarship program are eligible under the private school portion of the program. This includes siblings of Gardiner students who renew for the 2021-22 school year. For instructions on how to apply, please click here

Does the child who does not have a disability need to income-qualify?
The sibling qualifies regardless of the household income for an award under the private school portion of the scholarship (not the Education Savings Account program for students with special needs). 

Do the siblings of Gardiner students have to attend the same private school?
No.  

What if the Gardiner student is home educated, but the sibling does not have a disability, is the sibling eligible for an Education Savings Account to be home educated?
No. The sibling qualifies for the private school portion of the program. If using the private school option, the student must attend an eligible, participating private school.   

Are siblings of students with disabilities counted against the maximum number of scholarships available for the Education Savings Accounts?
The siblings of student with disabilities are counted toward the maximum number of scholarship available under private school portion of the Family Empowerment Scholarship and the funds may only be used for private school scholarships (Not the Education Savings Account for special needs students).  

Will Gardiner Scholarship students whose scholarship amount will be grandfathered into the Family Empowerment Scholarship, only be grandfathered in for one year?
No, renewal Gardiner Scholarship students will keep their grandfathered scholarship amount from the 2020-21 school year as long as that amount is higher than the amount for any future year. 

How do I apply for the new Family Empowerment Scholarship for students with special needs?
To read instructions on how to apply, please click here. If you have renewed for Gardiner or McKay, no further action is needed.  

How do I submit an application for the siblings of my Gardiner student?
To read instructions on how to apply, please click here

Can students with disabilities use scholarship funds to attend a school that does not meet the requirements for scholarship participation?
No, in order to use scholarship funds at a private school, the school must meet the requirements outlined in s. 1002.421, F.S.  

Will all students with any disabilities be eligible for an Education Savings Account in 2022-2023?
The new law provides a list of eligible disabilities. A new student must have one of the listed disabilities to qualify for a Family Empowerment Scholarship Education Savings Account in 2021-22.  

Will students with a 504 plan be eligible for a Family Empowerment Scholarship Education Savings Account?
Students with a 504 plan who attended public school during the prior school year will be eligible under the McKay scholarship for the 2021-22 school year. Students with a 504 plan are not eligible under the Family Empowerment Scholarship Education Savings Account unless they have a qualifying disability.  

Will McKay students be exempt from the maximum number of scholarships available for the 2022-23 school year?
Yes. McKay students who roll over to the Family Empowerment Scholarship in 2022-23 will not count against the maximum number of scholarships available for students with special needs/unique abilities.   

What documentation will be needed to qualify under the new eligibility criteria for the Family Empowerment Scholarship (formerly Gardiner Scholarship)?
The required documentation has not been determined yet. Please sign up to receive notification once the process has been determined.

What are the educational options of students who have an IEP meeting with the school district?
Within 10 days after an IEP meeting is held, the public school district must notify the parent of the Family Empowerment Scholarship option, and offer the student’s parent an opportunity to enroll in another public school in the school district. The parent is not required to accept the offer of another public school in lieu of requesting a scholarship.

As an alternative to the scholarship, the parent may also choose to enroll the student in and transport the student to a public school in an adjacent school district that has available space and a program with the services agreed to in the student’s IEP already in place.

How do Family Empowerment Scholarship families who qualify with special needs/unique abilities based on an IEP use the public-school option?
Families will need to go directly to their district to choose the public-school option.

What are the educational options for students who qualify under s. 1002.394(3)(a) of the Family Empowerment Scholarship?
An eligible student may use one of the following options:

  • Use their scholarship to pay for tuition and fees at an eligible, participating, private school.
  • If the student meets the following requirements, they may choose a $750 award to cover transportation to a public school other than the one the student is assigned to, if the school does not offer transportation:
    • The student is on the direct certification list or the student’s household income level does not exceed 185% of the federal poverty level; or
    • The student is currently placed, or during the previous state fiscal year was placed, in foster care or in out-of-home care as defined in s. 39.01;

How do Family Empowerment Scholarship families pick the transportation option?
With the Family Empowerment Scholarship transportation option, families who meet the following requirements can choose a $750 scholarship to assist with the cost of transportation to a public school other than the one the student is assigned to attend, if the school district does not provide transportation to the school:

  1. The student is on the direct certification list or the student’s household income level does not exceed 185% of the federal poverty level; or
  2. The student is currently placed, or during the previous state fiscal year was placed, in foster care or in out-of-home care as defined in s. 39.01;

If the parent meets these qualifications, they can email or call Step Up For Students and request this option. The family must provide the name of the school the student is assigned to and the name of the public school of choice the student has been accepted to.

Can devices and internet access be covered by the scholarship?  If so, for which programs?
This legislation allows for digital devices and internet access to be covered by the Family Empowerment Scholarship utilizing the private school scholarship. To be covered, devices and internet access must be included in the school’s tuition and fees. More details to come. Family Empowerment Scholarship students utilizing the Education Savings Account scholarship (including renewal Gardiner students) may continue to use funds for digital devices.

Can a summer academic camp be covered with Gardiner funding?
This may currently be covered, but it may require special documentation from the student’s therapist, tutor, etc. 

Will distance learning still be funded next year for students in the private school/transportation component of the scholarship?
No. There is no emergency order from the Dept. of Education this year. Scholarship students need to be attending the brick and mortar location of the scholarship-participating private school and having regular and direct contact at the school. This is the case for ALL scholarship program students, including the FES-UA students, who are enrolled in a participating private school and paying tuition and fees.

Who is included in the phrase “dependent child of a member of the United States Armed Forces”?
The State Board of Education approved revisions to the Family Empowerment Scholarship (FES) program rule, which will now allow “dependents of members of the U.S. Armed Forces” to include members of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, Marine Corps, or Space Force, as well as Reservists and members of the National Guard.

Does the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship still get the 2 Florida Virtual School courses? Does the Family Empowerment Scholarship?
The Florida Tax Credit Scholarship still includes language to allow students to take no more than  2 state-funded virtual courses. The Family Empowerment Scholarship for income-based students does not include that language. Students who participate in the FES ESA for unique abilities/special needs will be able to use their scholarship funds for the Florida Virtual School as a private-paying student.  Schools may also want to consider building Florida Virtual School courses into their tuition and fee schedule. 

Who will administer the Family Empowerment Scholarship funds to families and schools?
Scholarship Funding Organizations (SFOs), such as Step Up For Students, will administer funds. 

I own a private school or am the principal of a private school, are my children eligible for a scholarship?
Per Florida Statute SB2126; “Owner or operator” includes: An owner, operator, superintendent, or principal of an eligible private school or a person with equivalent decision-making authority over an eligible private school.

An owner or operator may only qualify for a Family Empowerment Scholarship if they meet all other eligibility requirements. However, the may not receive a Florida Tax Credit Scholarship.

Hope Scholarship FAQs

No FAQs at this time. Please click here to learn more about the Hope Scholarship.

Reading Scholarship FAQs

No FAQs at this time. Please click here to learn more about the Reading Scholarship.

McKay Scholarship FAQs

When McKay Scholarship students enter the Family Empowerment Scholarship (FES) in the 2022-23 school year, will Gardiner students have to compete with McKay students for the same spots as new families?
No, when the McKay Scholarship merges into the Family Empowerment Scholarship in the 2022-23 school year, all McKay students in the 21-22 school year will not count against the FES student limit under the cap.  This means that the McKay students will not use any of the spaces available for other students. Gardiner students in 20-21 would have priority for spaces under the FES cap in 21-22, and would have priority as renewal students under the cap in future years.  

Do the McKay students have to attend a private school in 2021-2022?
Yes.   

Will the McKay Scholarship students be eligible for an Education Savings Account in 2022-2023?
Yes.  

Do students who participated in the Gardiner or McKay Scholarships have to qualify for the Family Empowerment Scholarship based on their income?
No. There will be two separate parts of the Family Empowerment Scholarship, one for students with special needs and one for students who qualify based on household income. Students with special needs and unique abilities do not have to qualify for a scholarship based on their household income.

Will all students with any disabilities be eligible for an Education Savings Account in 2022-2023?
The new law provides a list of eligible disabilities. A new student must have one of the listed disabilities to qualify for a Family Empowerment Scholarship Education Savings Account in 2021-22.  

Will students with a 504 plan be eligible for a Family Empowerment Scholarship Education Savings Account?
Students with a 504 plan who attended public school during the prior school year will be eligible under the McKay scholarship for the 2021-22 school year. Students with a 504 plan are not eligible under the Family Empowerment Scholarship Education Savings Account unless they have a qualifying disability.

Will McKay students be exempt from the maximum number of scholarships available for the 2022-23 school year?
Yes. McKay students who roll over to the Family Empowerment Scholarship in 2022-23 will not count against the maximum number of scholarships available for students with special needs/unique abilities.   

Will distance learning still be funded next year?
No. There is no emergency order from the Dept. of Education this year. Scholarship students need to be attending the brick and mortar location of the scholarship-participating private school and having regular and direct contact at the school. This is the case for ALL scholarship program students, including the FES-UA students, who are enrolled in a participating private school and paying tuition and fees..  

School FAQs

Does the audit process change for schools to once every 3 years?
The Agreed Upon Procedures rules for participating private schools are not changing. The reference to the audit process is for Scholarship Funding Organizations, such as Step Up For Students. 

Will schools be required to take all scholarships?
Schools can choose which scholarship programs they wish to participate in through the Department of Education. 

Can scholarship students do distance learning this year?
No. There is no emergency order from the Dept. of Education this year. Scholarship students need to be attending the brick and mortar location of the scholarship-participating private school and having regular and direct contact at the school. This is the case for ALL scholarship program students, including the FES-UA students, who are enrolled in a participating private school and paying tuition and fees. 

If students are on FES-UA, can they take virtual classes or distance learning through the private school instead of going to a private school’s brick and mortar location?
No. If a student on the FES-UA program is registered with a participating private school as a private school student, and paying tuition and fees to that school, the student should be in attendance at that school’s brick and mortar location. 

The student cannot take virtual classes INSTEAD OF attending classes at the brick and mortar school. This does not include virtual classes as part of the student’s curriculum and paid for as part of the student’s tuition and fees at that private school and provided AT the school during the student’s regular school day. Additionally: 

  • There is nothing to prevent additional supplemental virtual classes or curriculum to be purchased with the scholarship funds for these students, but the scholarship-participating private school should be having regular and direct contact with scholarship students at the school’s physical location.
  • If a student on the FES-UA program is registered as a home education student, the student does not have to be attending a private school location and could be taking virtual or distance learning courses.

If a student is out sick with COVID-19, or must be quarantined due to exposure, how will that be handled, and will the school still receive payment?
Private schools determine their own attendance/absenteeism policies. There is nothing to prevent schools from having an attendance policy that provides excused absences due to any illness, including COVID-19, so the private school will have their own policy and procedure for handling cases of COVID-19. 

Scholarship students may be counted for attendance purposes while they have an excused absence for illness, including COVID-19, as long as they are following the private school’s attendance policy. However, please note that scholarship students may not be full-time remote or distance learning students.

If a student is out sick with COVID-19 during Step Up’s VR for any payment, will the student miss the payment?
No. Students who have regular excused absences for illness, including COVID-19, may still be counted in the VR for payment. 

If students have an extended illness that prevents attendance at the school’s brick and mortar location, and no education is being provided by the school for the student, please contact the provider relations team at Step Up For Students, and an Exit Confirmation Form may be submitted. If the student has an extended illness and the school is providing an education to the student pursuant to their attendance policy, the student may still be counted for payment; however, scholarship students may not be full-time remote or distance learning students. Please note that if a student exits the scholarship program, their scholarship will not be held, and they may come back on to the program later in the year only if there are still scholarships remaining.

Is there an emergency order from the DOE to allow virtual learning for the 2021-22 school year?
No. Here is the statement from the DOE explaining the status: 

Section 1002.421(1)(i), Florida Statutes, requires private schools participating in educational scholarship programs to maintain a physical location at which each student has regular and direct contact with teachers. The Commissioner of Education issued Emergency Orders 2020-EO-01, 2020-EO-06, and 2020-EO-07, which waived this requirement as our private schools navigated the onset of the COVID-19 Pandemic and maintained this critical flexibility through Summer 2021

Private schools participating in scholarship programs satisfied the requirements outlined in s. 1002.421, F.S. for each student to maintain direct student contact with teachers by submitting education plans. 

These emergency orders were based on the authority granted to the Department in the Governor’s Executive Order 20-52, which declared a state of emergency and permitted state agencies to suspend certain statutes and rules. Executive Order 20-52 was subsequently ratified, reaffirmed, and extended several times but has not been renewed by the Governor since Executive Order 21-94. Accordingly, at this time, the Department has not issued another Emergency Order extending the waiver established in those emergency orders. Due to the statutory language requiring scholarship students to have regular and direct contact with their teachers, the Department is unable to make any adjustments or exceptions. Should another Emergency Order be released, the Office of Independent Education and Parental Choice will immediately notify our Scholarship families and participating private schools.

What are my options if my scholarship student cannot go to the private school’s physical location this fall?
If your scholarship student is unable to attend the private school’s physical location, you may withdraw from the scholarship program with Step Up For Students by completing an Exit Form. 

If a student withdraws for purposes of registering as a home education student, the student could come back onto the scholarship program later in the school year IF there are still scholarships available at that time. The scholarship will not be held for the student during the school year. Please note that if a scholarship student enrolls in a public school or public school program (FLVS, district Virtual Instruction Program, or charter school), the student is considered to have returned to public school for the purpose of determining the end of the scholarship’s term. This will result in the student having to requalify for the scholarship.

What is the 10-day rule? Does it mean that if my scholarship student is absent 10 days during the school year, he/she will lose the scholarship?
No. The 10-day rule does not pertain to absences. If a scholarship student is enrolled for 10 days in a participating private school during a particular quarter of the school year, the first participating private school that the student attends for 10 days within the quarter receives the full payment for that quarter from Step Up For Students.

Does Step Up For Students administer the Dual Enrollment Scholarship?
No, please contact the Florida Department of Education with any questions

Is anything reported to Step Up For Students for the Dual Enrollment Scholarship?
No, please contact the Florida Department of Education with any questions.

Does the new Dual Enrollment Scholarship program include eligibility for all private school students, including scholarship students?
Yes.

What grade levels are eligible to participate?
Eligible secondary students.

Do the private schools report students for funding?
No, each participating postsecondary institution must report to the department any eligible secondary students from private schools or home education programs who were enrolled in courses in the fall or spring terms to reimburse the postsecondary institutions for tuition and related instructional materials.

Updated as of 8.19.2021