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

Private School Scholarships in Florida

Did you know that in the State of 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, educational support programs, 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.

While priority is given to students who meet certain income guidelines, these scholarships no longer have income limits, meaning any family in Florida can apply for a scholarship to pay for private school, homeschool, and other educational support options.

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Private School scholarships in Florida are awarded through Step Up for Students and the AAA Scholarship Foundation. Changes were made in 2021, 2022, and 2024, and the Gardiner Scholarship, McKay Scholarship, and Hope Scholarship have been combined into other programs. 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 scholarships listed below. All scholarships are managed by the Florida Department of Education.

Florida Tax Credit Scholarship (FTC) + Family Empowerment Scholarship for Educational Options (FES-EO)

The Florida Tax Credit Scholarship (FTC) and Family Empowerment Scholarship for Educational Options (FES-EO) give families a scholarship to help pay for private school tuition and fees.

While these scholarships were once income based, recent changes allow any family to apply for a scholarship. Priority is given to children from lower-income families and those who are in foster care, as well as renewal students.

Scholarship amounts vary by county and grade but are worth an average of $7,800. The scholarship awards will first pay for tuition and fees at eligible private schools with scholarship payments sent directly to the school. Remaining funds can be accessed through an education savings account (ESA) and used to pay for things like instructional materials, tuition to attend college classes or an apprenticeship program, testing fees, online courses, and more.

When and Where to Apply
The application is the same for both of these private school scholarships. AAA (link below) has a helpful checklist if you want to be sure you are eligible. Families can apply through an approved Scholarship Funding Organization (SFO):

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, a college savings account for higher education, and more.

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):

Florida Public School Transportation Scholarship

A transpiration stipend, worth $750 for the 2024-25 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, including magnet schools and charter schools. All students in grades K-8 are eligible to apply for the transportation scholarship, regardless of household income. Previous recipients will receive priority.

When and Where to Apply
Families can apply through the Step Up for Students Website, sign up to be notified when applications are available.

Scholarship for Personalized Education Program Students

Florida students who are not full-time private or public school students can apply for the Personalized Education Program (PEP). This scholarship provides an education savings account (ESA) to fund the educational needs of eligible students in grades K-12, regardless of household income. Priority is given to students from families that meet certain income criteria, but any family is able to apply.

Funds can be utilized for a variety of education needs including eligible home education instruction programs, private tutoring, Florida Virtual School, homeschool courses, apprenticeship programs, college courses, and more. PEP parents and guardians must complete a Personal Education Plan / Student Learning Plan for each student prior to funding, and meet additional requirements listed on the website.

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

Reading + Math Help: New Worlds Scholarship Accounts

You may be eligible if your child is:

The New Worlds Scholarship program allows parents with children in public school to access services for their children in grades Kindergarten through 5th who are having trouble reading or scored below a 3 on Florida’s standardized testing. 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.

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.

Bullied Students: Hope Scholarship

The Hope Scholarship Program was intended for parents of children in public school to find a new learning environment for their child who is being bullied or a subject to violence. As of May 2024, The Hope Scholarship has been merged with the Family Empowerment Scholarship for Educational Options (FES-EO) and Florida Tax Credit Scholarship (FTC) programs.

Students with Special Needs, Medical Needs, + Unique Abilities: Gardiner Scholarship and McKay Scholarship

The McKay Scholarship Program was for Florida public school students with a documented disability and either an IEP or 504 plan, and the Gardiner Scholarship was for students with a documented disability or medical needs. Both scholarship programs have been merged into the Family Empowerment Scholarship for Students with Unique Abilities program (FES-UA).

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 on the Step up for Students website as a starting point to find participating schools, 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.

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.