The Gardiner Scholarship (formerly the PLSA) is newly named to Florida as part of the Step Up for Students Scholarship program. The Gardiner is for special needs students with a medical diagnosis. Recently, I discussed the serious business of the McKay Scholarship. The Gardiner is another excellent choice when looking for appropriate education for a special needs child.
The things that I consider when looking into the Gardiner
- it can be used for tuition or products
- it averages $10,000
- do not have to have an IEP to qualify
- flexibility with eligibility and determination
The first thing that is different about Gardiner than McKay is that the scholarship amount can be used for tuition or products. You are not locked into a private school. As the parent you can use speech therapy, OT, PT, materials or college prepaid account. The money does not come to the parent, it does go to the qualifying specialist. You also have to select a therapist that accepts Gardiner money.
I like that the scholarship averages $10,000 for each child. There is no complicated matrix, IEP or school district complying your score or remove services. There are also benefits to applying for McKay if you have a special needs child that has many services because the Gardiner Scholarship will match the dollar amount of McKay with a matrix score of 254 or 255. The highest amount for McKay is $22,000!
Students do not need to have an IEP to qualify for the Gardiner Scholarship. A student can qualify with a medical diagnosis of:
Autism spectrum disorder, Cerebral Palsy, Down syndrome, an intellectual disability, Phelan-McDermid syndrome, Prader-Willi syndrome, Spina Bifida, Muscular Dystrophy, Williams syndrome or a high-risk child
If you do not have a medical diagnosis you can still apply for your child and use your IEP as evidence of a special need or disability. For some parents who have a child that is 3 or 4, this scholarship would allow the child to receive one on one intensive therapy while waiting for an appointment for a developmentally pediatrician. See my previous post about why medical diagnosis is so important.
There is more flexibility with determining and qualifying for the Gardiner Scholarship than McKay. The parent has more choice on where the dollars are spent and families are able to apply for money before age 5. McKay is only for students that are kindergarten grade level and up. I found that getting information about this scholarship is not openly discussed or handed out. It is pretty much a hidden gem that only certain people will even whisper that they will take that scholarship. Because it is hard to find therapists, let alone therapists that take the Gardiner Scholarships many parents are not informed. There is also a commitment because the scholarship is for services and products, it can be used for tuition. So, many parents need child care and therapy for their children. When services are available for 5 hours a day then the parent has to pay for and rely on a sitter or be available to care for the child. There are some complexities but it gives options. Some parents want to stay home with their children until kindergarten, if your child had special needs this would be a way to access therapy without maxing out insurance and paying heavily out-of-pocket. The key is to remember that parents only get ONE choice; either McKay, Gardiner, or Step Up Income Based Scholarship.
Check out the Gardiner Scholarship and see if it’s right for your family.