8 Scholarship Programs that can help you pay for Private School, Reading Help, and Special Needs Services in Florida

Did you know that you can choose the school your child attends in Florida? You can receive financial support and select the education best suited to your child’s needs, such as private school or transportation to a different public school, thanks to a variety of scholarship opportunities. Three of these scholarships can also be used to pay for extracurricular special needs services and reading assistance from private providers.

Both Step Up for Students and the AAA Scholarship Foundation offer scholarships. The Gardiner and McKay Scholarships have been combined into one scholarship program following changes made in 2021 and 2022. Details on Florida’s private school scholarship options are provided below.

1. Florida’s K–12 Scholarship Programs:

-Florida Tax Credit Scholarship: Based on Income (FTC)


-Family Empowerment Scholarship for Educational Options, Income Based (FES-EO)

-Family Empowerment Scholarship for Students with Unique Abilities (FES-UA), formerly the Gardiner Scholarship and the McKay Scholarship, offers financial aid to students with special needs and medical needs.

-Scholarship for transportation

-Hope Scholarship for Bullied Students


-Reading Assistance: Scholarship

-Using Scholarship Money



2. Step Up for Students

Despite the fact that Step Up for Students is frequently used to refer to these scholarships, it is actually one of the two non-profit Scholarship Funding Organizations (SFOs) that assess student eligibility for the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship (FTC), the Family Empowerment Scholarship (FES), the Family Empowerment Scholarship for Students with Unique Abilities program (FES-UA), the Hope Scholarship, and the Reading Scholarship Programs. The Florida Department of Education oversees the management of all scholarships. Below, you can find out more about these scholarships and how to apply.


3. Income Based: Florida Tax Credit Scholarship (FTC)

With the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship, families have the option of receiving help with private school tuition and fees or with the cost of transporting a child to a public school other than the one to which they have been assigned.

Until all fees are paid OR the student’s maximum scholarship award amount is reached, the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship private school option may be applied to tuition, books, registration, transportation, uniforms, and testing, in that order. Renewal students are given precedence.


4. Income Based: Family Empowerment Scholarship for Educational Options (FES-EO)

The 2019 establishment of the Family Empowerment Scholarship for Educational Options allows for the payment of private school tuition and fees. The student must have been accepted into or be currently enrolled in a participating private school before the scholarship money can be given.

One of these Florida Income-Based Scholarships may be available to your child if:

-A household member receives TANF, FDPIR, or SNAP (food stamps).

-The family is eligible for free or reduced-cost lunch.

-The household income is equal to or less than the required amount. (The eligibility chart can be found on the website; a family of four can still qualify with an income of up to $111,000 per year.))

-A student is/was placed at any time during the current OR previous state fiscal year in foster care or out-of-home care.

-A student is without a home.

-Regardless of income, dependents of military personnel and law enforcement personnel are eligible.

For a comprehensive list of requirements, go to the application websites listed below.

When to Apply and Where

Although the programs’ eligibility requirements differ, both use the same application. Through a recognized Scholarship Funding Organization (SFO), families can submit an application:

  • Website for Step Up for Students
  • Website for AAA Scholarships

(There is one application for both the FTC and FES-EO income-based scholarships. AAA has a helpful checklist if you are trying to determine your eligibility. FTC and FES-EO scholarships are once-in, always-in, which means once a student is awarded and uses a scholarship, they will remain eligible, regardless of income, until they graduate high school or return to public school, you will only have to fill out renewal paperwork each year).


5. Special Needs + Medical Needs: Family Empowerment Scholarship for Students with Unique Abilities program (FES-UA)
Formerly the Gardiner Scholarship and McKay Scholarship

By allocating funds to a variety of programs and approved providers, the Family Empowerment Scholarship for Students with Unique Abilities (FES-UA) differs from other state scholarships in that it enables parents to tailor the education of their children with special needs. Schools, therapists, experts, curricula, technology, and even a college savings account are some of these.

The Family Empowerment Scholarship for Students with Unique Abilities was created by new legislation that took effect on July 1, 2021, and it combined the McKay and Gardiner Scholarships into a single program (FES-UA).

You may be eligible:

If your child has one of the following disabilities and is enrolled in school in Florida from age 3 through grade 12 or until they turn 22, whichever comes first: Autism spectrum disorder, muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, Prader-Willi syndrome, spina bifida, Williams syndrome, intellectual disability (severe cognitive impairment), rare diseases as defined by the National Organization for Rare Disorders, anaphylaxis, deafness, blindness, dual sensory impairment, traumatic brain injury, hospital or homebound as defined by State Board of Education rules and supported by report For a comprehensive list, go to the FES-UA website.

When to Apply and Where

Through a recognized Scholarship Funding Organization (SFO), families can submit an application:

Website for Step Up for Students

Website for AAA Scholarships


6. Transportation Scholarship

The $750 transportation scholarship can be used to help with travel expenses to a public school other than the one they are required to attend in the 2021–22 school year. This scholarship is based on financial need.

You may be eligible:

A family of four with an annual income of up to $111,000 may qualify for the 2022–23 academic year.

When to Apply and Where

The same application used for the FTC and FES-EO scholarships is available to families on the Step Up for Students website.


7. Bullied Students: Hope Scholarship

With the help of the Hope Scholarship, parents of students in public schools can help their child, who is being bullied or is a victim of violence, find a new learning environment. The money can go toward tuition and fees for private schools or toward help with transportation to another public school.

You may be eligible:

If your child attends a public school in Florida and is subjected to harassment, bullying, or threats.

When to Apply and Where

Use the Step Up for Students website to apply.

The school principal or his/her designee must provide proof of a qualifying incident in order to submit the application. So be sure to apply early. Scholarships are awarded to eligible students on a first-come, first-served basis pending funding availability and are processed in the order they are received. Priority is given to renewal students.


8. Reading Help: Reading Help Scholarship

The Reading Scholarship Accounts program enables parents of students enrolled in public schools to get help for their struggling readers in grades three through five. For tuition and fees associated with part-time tutoring, summer and after-school literacy programs, instructional materials, and curriculum related to reading or literacy, the program gives parents access to education savings accounts worth $500 each.

You might qualify if your kid is:

third, fourth, or fifth graders who are presently enrolled in a public school in Florida and who obtained a performance level 1 or 2 on their English Language Arts (ELA) test from the previous academic year.

Priority will be given to students who are identified as English language learners.

When to Apply and Where

Visit the Step Up for Students website to apply.

When applications become available, apply as soon as possible because they are processed on a first-come, first-served basis in the order that all documents are received.


Use of Scholarship Money

Private schools in the area have the option of taking part or not in each of these state scholarship programs. The Step up for Students website’s School Search map can be used as a starting point, but you should speak with a school directly to find out which scholarships they accept. Keep in mind that receiving scholarship money and enrolling in a private school are two separate applications; receiving a scholarship does not ensure enrollment in a particular private school and enrolling in a private school does not ensure receiving a scholarship.

Additionally, financial aid for needy students and scholarships based on merit are frequently offered directly by private schools. Our Private School Guide for Lakeland + Polk County contains more information about nearby schools.

Both the FES-UA Scholarship and the Reading Scholarship are accepted by our neighborhood partner, Huntington Learning Center, to assist with tutoring services, reading remediation, and other services.

Polk County Public Schools offers additional public school choice initiatives.

You don’t think you can afford a private education, do you? We hope we’ve prompted you to reconsider! Don’t let the cost of tuition deter you from exploring your options. With various financial aid options, private schools can be made more affordable. With the aid of these six Florida scholarship programs, your family may be able to afford a private school education.

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