StateImpact Florida
3:55 pm
Fri July 25, 2014

Applications For New School Choice Program Higher Than Expected

An advertisement for the new scholarship programs.
An advertisement for the new scholarship programs.
Credit Step Up For Students

If you want one of the roughly 1,800 new scholarships for students with disabilities that allows parents to mix and match services for their children, you better get an application in soon.

More than 1,200 families applied for a Personal Learning Scholarship Account, or PLSA, in the first week of applications. The scholarships are awarded on a first-come, first-served basis and are intended for students autism, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome and other significant learning challenges.

“We really didn’t expect to see this much demand this quickly,” said Patrick Gibbons, spokesman for Step Up For Students, which administers the state scholarship program.

State leaders weren’t sure how many parents would be aware of the scholarships when lawmakers approved the program this year. But word spread quickly, and more than 700 families said they were interested before enrollment opened July 18.

Gibbons said the scholarships are more flexible than the state’s other school choice programs.

“You can mix and match public school and private school. You can pay for tutors, speech therapies and even save that money for college.”

The scholarships range in value from about $4,500 to more than $19,000 depending on a student’s grade, school district and disability.

Florida is the second state to approve scholarships of this type, after Arizona. A 2013 report found two-thirds of Arizona parents used their scholarships like a traditional voucher. A third of Arizona parents used the scholarships to supplement private school tuition with tutoring, therapy or additional curricula.