Scholarships

John M. McKay Scholarships for Students with Disabilities

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John M. McKay Scholarships for Students with Disabilities

John M. McKay Scholarships for Students with Disabilities

Scholarship Description

The John M. McKay Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Program in Florida provides vouchers to public school students with special needs who have Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) or 504 plans to attend private or other public schools. The programme was expanded by the Florida legislature in 2000. In 2022–23, this programme will be absorbed into Florida’s Family Empowerment Scholarship (Unique Abilities ESA) Program. On this page, you can learn about the most recent programme details, such as eligibility, funding, regulations, legal history, and more.

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Florida’s school choice programmes allow parents to select the best educational setting for their child, whether public or private. In the 2021-2022 school year, nearly 30,000 Florida students with special needs will be able to attend a participating private school thanks to the McKay Scholarship Program for Students with Disabilities. The McKay Scholarship Program also allows parents to transfer their eligible child to a different public school.

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John M. McKay Scholarships for Students with Disabilities

Vouchers are worth up to 100% of Florida Education Finance Plan funding per pupil, but funding cannot exceed the private school’s tuition and fees. Calculations are based on the district’s services provided under the student’s IEP or 504 plan. Parents may supplement vouchers for tuition with their own funds.

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The McKay Scholarship Program will join the Family Empowerment Scholarship Program under the Unique Abilities category on July 1, 2022. (FES UA). Current McKay families will be able to stay in their current public or private school choice setting, or they will be able to use the additional options available under the FES UA education savings account model to further customise their child’s education experience for their specific needs.

Eligibility for Students

Students with disabilities who have IEPs or 504 plans and have attended public school for at least one year are eligible. Students entering kindergarten without enrolling in public school may also qualify if the state’s Office of Early Learning reports that they received specialised instructional services in prekindergarten or if they transfer to a private school in a year in which they were previously enrolled in a public kindergarten in October. Students in foster care and dependents of active duty military members who relocated to Florida from out-of-state on a military assignment are also exempt from the prior public schooling requirement.

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School Requirements:

  • Be approved by the state
  • Submit to the state annual sworn compliance reports regarding all local and state health and safety codes
  • Comply with federal nondiscrimination requirements of 42 U.S.C. § 2000d
  • Teachers and other school personnel who work with scholarship recipients must undergo federal background checks
  • Teachers must have a bachelor’s degree, three years of teaching experience or special expertise
  • Schools in operation for fewer than three years must obtain a surety bond or letter of credit to cover the value of the scholarship payments for one quarter
  • Provide a program of instruction for a minimum of 170 actual school instruction days
  • Notify the Florida Department of Education when a scholarship student withdraws from the school
  • Verify participants’ enrollment three times per year
  • Report student’s progress to parents annually
John M. McKay Scholarships for Students with Disabilities

Legal History

On January 4, 2019, the Florida Supreme Court in Citizens for Strong Schools v. Florida State Board of Education rejected a claim that the state did not adequately fund education, marking the end of a 10-year litigation effort. The high court also preserved Florida’s school choice programs due to plaintiffs’ failure to adequately preserve their arguments throughout the litigation. The high court affirmed two lower court rulings (Citizens for Strong Schools, Inc. v. Florida State Board of Education, No. CA-4534 (Fla. 2d. Jud. Cir. May 24, 2016; and Citizens for Strong Schools v. Florida State Board of Education, No. 1D16-2862 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. Dec. 13, 2017) holding that plaintiffs had no standing to sue regarding the tax-credit scholarship program, and that Florida’s school choice programs did not divert state funding or have any detrimental effect on Florida’s system of public schools. Notwithstanding the Florida Supreme Court’s prior ruling against vouchers (Bush v. Holmes, 886 So. 2d 340 (Fla. 1st DCA 2004), aff’d on other grounds, 919 So. 2d 392 (Fla. 2006)), the Court also held that the McKay voucher program was beneficial and constitutional. Citizens for Strong Schools v Florida State Board of Education, case No. SC18-67 (FL. Jan 4, 2019) 

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