Tampa, Florida (PRWEB) July 17, 2014
Starting Friday, parents of Florida children with significant special needs including autism, Down syndrome and cerebral palsy can apply for a new type of K-12 scholarship that will allow them to individualize their child’s education.
The Florida Personal Learning Scholarship Account (PLSA) is for students in kindergarten through 12th grade with one of eight specific learning disabilities. It allows a parent to use the money to choose from a variety of education options. Those options include private schools, therapists, specialists, curricula and materials – even contributions to a prepaid college fund. For 2014-15, the scholarships are worth an average of about $10,000.
“This scholarship will make all the difference in the world,” said Dorothy Famiano of Brooksville, who has two children who are eligible for the scholarship accounts – Nicholas, who has Spina bifida, and Danielle, 11, who has been diagnosed with autism.
The new program was the brainchild of Sen. Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, who is in line to become Senate president and has a son with Down syndrome. Gardiner modeled it after Arizona, making Florida only the second state to offer this unique educational option.
Under the PLSA, students can receive scholarship payments until they graduate from high school or reach age 22. Funds can roll over from one year to the next. The account remains in place until a student graduates from a postsecondary institution, or he or she graduates from high school and attends no postsecondary education for four consecutive years.
“Personal Learning Scholarship Accounts are an enormous vote in favor of truly providing an individualized education for children who have unique abilities in the state of Florida,” said Christine Bancalari, co-founder of the Down Syndrome Foundation of Florida. “Allowing parents to customize their children’s education to their individual needs is a win-win for all. The impact that this has on a child’s educational success will translate into more opportunities for their future success as an adult in the community.”
“The Home Education Foundation is very excited about the new Personal Learning Scholarship Accounts for special needs children,” said Brenda Dickinson, the foundation’s president. “This scholarship will help provide the much-needed therapies and services that most home educating parents cannot afford. We are so grateful that the state has given parents a choice and a helping hand to ensure that all special needs children can reach their full potential."
To be eligible, a student must be diagnosed with either autism, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, Intellectual Disability (severe cognitive impairment), Prader-Willi syndrome, Spina bifida, Williams syndrome or entering kindergarten with development delays that cause them to be deemed “high risk.” The state set aside $18.4 million to seed the first year of the program, an amount that is estimated to serve roughly 1,800 students.
Applications officially open on Friday through a nonprofit scholarship organization, Step Up For Students, which also helps administer the Tax Credit Scholarship for low-income students. Students will need either an “Individual Education Plan” from a Florida school district or a formal diagnosis from a licensed physician or psychologist. The scholarship is also available for students who participate in home education.
Parents can apply online Friday at http://www.stepupforstudents.org. More details about the program are also available at the site.