By: Senator Andy Gardiner
Earlier this year, the Florida House and Senate passed, and Governor Scott signed into law, legislation that transforms education opportunities for students with unique abilities by providing a new way for parents to access tools and resources needed to individualize education in an unprecedented way.
Adding to Florida’s robust educational choice options and pathways for Florida’s families, the legislation created new Personal Learning Scholarship Accounts (PLSAs). This unique scholarship program, which is sponsored by the state, is available to students who meet specific requirements, allowing parents to direct scholarship funds toward authorized services, instructional materials, and educational services intended to enhance their children’s educational goals.
Florida’s new PLSAs will benefit school-age children (K-12) who have an individual education plan or have been diagnosed with autism, cerebral palsy, Down Syndrome, Prader-Willi Syndrome, Spina bifida, Williams syndrome, or other specific intellectual challenges. Students with developmental delays who are entering Kindergarten may also be eligible. Unlike other scholarship programs, students currently schooled at home or students enrolled in a private school, who are not already benefiting from one of Florida’s other scholarships, are eligible to apply to participate. Individual scholarships amounts will vary, but the average award is expected to be approximately $10,000 per academic year.
Parents can apply funds from their PLSA to traditional educational costs such as tuition and fees associated with private school instruction or contracted services through school districts. Unique to the new PLSA program, parents may also apply their PLSA funds toward individually-tailored speech, occupational, or physical therapy services, digital devices, assistive technology, targeted curricular materials, and even tuition at an eligible college or university.
We know that parents are their children’s first and best educators. Through the PLSA Program, the state is not only empowering parents of children with unique abilities to make critical choices concerning their children’s educational goals, but also providing the specific resources to make those goals a reality.
I encourage all parents who have a child with unique abilities to visit http://www.floridaschoolchoice.org/Information/plsa/ to learn more about PLSAs and to determine if your child may be eligible during the 2014-2015 year. It is important to apply early as space is limited.
Andy Gardiner represents Senate District 13, which includes portions of Brevard and Orange Counties. He is the incoming President of the Florida Senate.