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

Private School Scholarships in Florida

Did you know that in Florida, you have the option to pick where your child goes to school? Thanks to several scholarship opportunities, you can get financial assistance and choose the education that is best suited for your child’s needs, including private school, or transportation to a different public school. You can also use three of these scholarships to pay private providers for reading support and special needs services outside of school hours.

Scholarships are available through Step Up for Students and the AAA Scholarship Foundation. Changes were made in 2021 and 2022 and the Gardiner and McKay Scholarships have been combined into one scholarship program. Below you’ll find details on Florida’s private school scholarship options.

Step Up for Students

While “Step up for Students” is often used to reference these scholarships, Step Up for Students is one of two non-profit Scholarship Funding Organizations (SFOs) that issue scholarships and determine student eligibility for the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship (FTC), the Family Empowerment Scholarship (FES), Family Empowerment Scholarship for Students with Unique Abilities program (FES-UA), the Hope Scholarship, and the Reading Scholarship Programs. All scholarships are managed by the Florida Department of Education. Learn more about these scholarships and how to apply below.

Income Based: Florida Tax Credit Scholarship (FTC)

The Florida Tax Credit Scholarship gives families a choice of assistance toward private school tuition and fees, or helps with transportation costs for a student to attend a public school other than the one they are assigned to.

The Florida Tax Credit Scholarship private school option can be used towards the tuition, books, registration, transportation, uniforms, and testing, in this order, until all fees are covered OR the student’s maximum scholarship award amount is reached. Renewal students have first priority.

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

The Family Empowerment Scholarship for Educational Options was established in 2019 and can be used towards private school tuition and fees. Prior to scholarship funds being awarded, the student must be accepted or attending a participating private school.

Your child may qualify for one of these Florida Income-Based Scholarships if:

  • A member of the household receives SNAP (food stamps), TANF, or FDPIR
  • The household income qualifies for free or reduced-price lunch
  • The household income is at or below the income criteria. (Visit the website to see the Eligibility Chart – a family of four can have an income of up to $111,000 annually and still qualify)
  • A student is/was placed at any time in foster care or out-of-home care during the current OR previous state fiscal year
  • A student is homeless
  • Dependents of military members and law enforcement officers qualify, regardless of income

Visit the application websites below for a full list of eligibility criteria.

When and Where to Apply
While the eligibility criteria between the programs vary, the application is the same for both. Families can apply through an approved Scholarship Funding Organization (SFO):

(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).

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

The Family Empowerment Scholarship for Students with Unique Abilities (FES-UA) is different than other state scholarships in that it allows parents to personalize the education of their children with unique abilities by directing money toward a combination of programs and approved providers. These include schools, therapists, specialists, curriculum, technology – even a college savings account.

On July 1, 2021, new legislation went into effect that consolidated the number of Florida scholarship programs by rolling the Gardiner Scholarship and McKay Scholarship into one program – the Family Empowerment Scholarship for Students with Unique Abilities (FES-UA).

You may qualify:
If your child is a Florida student, 3 years old through 12th grade or age 22, whichever comes first, with one of the following disabilities: Autism spectrum disorder, Muscular dystrophy, Cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, Phelan McDermid 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, deaf, visually impaired, dual sensory impaired, traumatic brain injured, hospital or homebound as defined by the rules of the State Board of Education and evidenced by reports from local school districts, or three, four or five year-olds who are deemed high-risk due to developmental delays. See the FES-UA Website for a complete list.

When and Where to Apply
Families can apply through an approved Scholarship Funding Organization (SFO):

Transportation Scholarship

The transporation scholarship, worth $750 for the 2021-22 school year, can be used to assist with transportation costs to a public school that is different than the one they are assigned to attend. This is an income-based scholarship.

You may qualify:
For the 2022-23 school year, a family of four with an income up to $111,000 annually may be eligible.

When and Where to Apply
Families can apply through the Step Up for Students Website, it is the same application as the FTC and FES-EO scholarships.

Bullied Students: Hope Scholarship

The Hope Scholarship allows parents of children in public school to find a new learning environment for their child who is being bullied or a subject to violence. Funds can be used for private school tuition and fees, or assistance with transportation to another public school.

You may qualify:
If your child is a public school student in Florida who has had bullying, harassment, or receiving threats.

When and Where to Apply
Apply on the Step Up for Students Website.
Documentation of a qualifying incident through the school principal or his/her designee is required in order to submit the application. Applications are processed in the order they are received and scholarships are awarded to eligible students on a first-come, first-served basis pending funding availability, so be sure to apply early. Renewal students are given priority.

Reading Help: Reading Help Scholarship

The Reading Scholarship Accounts program allows parents with children in public school to access services for their children in grades three through five who are having trouble reading. The program offers parents access to education savings accounts, worth $500 each, to pay for tuition and fees related to part-time tutoring, summer and after-school literacy programs, instructional materials and curriculum related to reading or literacy.

You may be eligible if your child is:

  • Currently enrolled in a Florida public school in third, fourth or fifth grade, and scored a performance level 1 or 2 on the English Language Arts (ELA) test in the prior school year
  • Students who are classified as English Language Learners will receive priority.

When and Where to Apply
Apply on the Step Up for Students website.
Applications are processed on a first-come, first-served basis in the order all documents are received, so be sure to apply early once applications are available.

How to Use Scholarship Funds

Local private schools can choose whether to participate in each of these state scholarship programs. You can utilize the School Search map on the Step up for Students website as a starting point, but you should contact a school directly to verify which scholarships they accept. Remember that scholarship funding and private school enrollment are separate applications – a scholarship does not guarantee admission in a specific private school, and enrolling in a private school does not guarantee a scholarship.

Private schools also often have merit-based scholarships and need-based financial assistance available directly through the school. You can learn more about local schools in our Private School Guide for Lakeland + Polk County.

Our local partner, Huntington Learning Center, accepts both the FES-UA Scholarship and the Reading Scholarship to help with tutoring programs, reading remediation, and more.

Additional public school choice programs are available through Polk County Public Schools.

Think you can’t afford private school? We hope we’ve made you think again! Don’t let tuition costs scare you away from researching your options. Private schools can be made affordable with various options for financial aid. These six scholarship programs in Florida can help make a private school education possible for your family.

Education Guide

Check out our Education Guide for Lakeland + Polk County for other education topics including public schools, private schools, homeschooling, tutoring + test prep, school calendars, colleges, and more.