Basic Program Facts about the Family Empowerment Scholarship (formerly the Gardiner Scholarship)
The Family Empowerment Scholarship (formerly the Gardiner Scholarship) is a unique program for children with special needs. The scholarship allows parents to personalize the education of their children by directing money toward a combination of programs and approved providers. Florida became the second state in the nation, after Arizona, to create an education savings account program for children with special needs in 2014.
In the inaugural 2014-15 school year, the Gardiner Scholarship (then known as the Personal Learning Scholarship Accounts), served 1,491 students.
In 2016, the Florida legislature renamed the program in honor of Florida Senate President Andy Gardiner 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.
In 2021, the legislature voted to merge the Gardiner Scholarship with the Family Empowerment Scholarship. Beginning July 1, 2021 the following diagnoses become eligible for the scholarship: speech impairment, language impairment, hearing impairment, orthopedic impairment, emotional or behavior disability and specific learning disability.
Learn more about the Gardiner Scholarship program below or download the 2021-22 Family Empowerment Scholarship for Students with Unique Abilities Fact Sheet here.
The Florida legislature appropriated $189.9 million for the Gardiner Scholarship in 2020-21 and Step Up served 17,339 students on scholarship in with an average scholarship worth $10,317 that year.
For 2021-22, the Gardiner Scholarship was merged with the Family Empowerment Scholarship, becoming the Family Empowerment Scholarship for Students with Unique Abilities (FES-UA). This year, more than 23,000 students were awarded scholarships averaging around $10,000. Scholarships are available on a rolling basis and are prorated quarterly. The program is now funded through the Florida Education Finance Plan (FEFP).
- 56.2% Autism Spectrum
- 9.4% Rare Diseases
- 5.9% Anaphylaxis
- 5.7% Intellectual Disability
- 4.9% Multiple-Diagnoses
- 3.8% High-Risk
- 2.7% Other Health Impairment
- 2.1% Specific Learning Disability
- 2% Cerebral Palsy
- 1.8% Down Syndrome
- 5.5% All other diagnoses