Family Empowerment Scholarship for Students with Unique Abilities Gives Families Options

Scholarship for Students with Unique Abilities

2021-22 Fast Facts:

25,220 funded scholarship students.

Average scholarship about $10,000.

More than $200 million in funded scholarships.

More than 7,000 participating providers.

1,972 participating private schools.

$97.5 million purchased on MyScholarShop.

431,020 purchase orders on MyScholarShop.

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The Family Empowerment Scholarship for Students with Unique Abilities (FES-UA) 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 (ESA) program for children with unique abilities in 2014. In the inaugural 2014-15 school year year, the program served 1,491 students.

In 2021, the Florida legislature appropriated $189.9 million for the scholarship and Step Up served approximately 17,446 students with scholarships that year. Step Up served 23,719 students with unique abilities. Scholarships averaged about $10,000. Scholarships are available on a rolling basis and are prorated quarterly.

Program History

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.

Recipients By Diagnoses

Student Eligibility

This scholarship is for Florida students 3-years old through 12th grade, or up to age 22, with one of the following disabilities: anaphylaxis, autism spectrum disorder, cerebral palsy, deaf or hearing impaired, Down syndrome, dual sensory impaired, emotional or behavior disability, intellectual disability (severe cognitive impairment), language impaired, muscular dystrophy, orthopedic impaired, Phelan-McDermid syndrome, Prader-Willi syndrome, rare disease as defined by the National Organization for Rare Disorders, speech impairment, specific learning disability, Spina bifida, traumatic brain injury or Williams syndrome. Students aged 3 to 5 deemed “high risk” because of developmental delays may also be eligible.

Students can continue to receive scholarship funding until they graduate from high school, reach age 22, or return to public school. Unspent money in the account rolls over from year to year and is refunded to the state if the student has not enrolled in any eligible post-secondary institution for three consecutive years following high school graduation.
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