If your disabled child has a written school plan giving him or her accommodations (called a “504 Plan“), that plan can translate into a dollar amount, and you can use that money to pay for private school tuition. Governor Scott signed a new law expanding the McKay Scholarship program to cover students with 504 Plans, and that law goes into effect on July 1, 2011. Prior to this expansion, only children with Individual Education Plans (“IEPs”) were eligible for the McKay Scholarship. 504 Plans are named after the law which authorizes them – Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
So, here’s how it works. On July 1st, go to www.floridaschoolchoice.org and click on “McKay Scholarship.” Then click on “Apply for a McKay Scholarship.” Because the law just passed, it looks as though you only have until July 3, 2011 to apply for a fully-funded McKay Scholarship using a 504 Plan. If you apply after July 3, 2011, you may be eligible for a partial year scholarship – see Messages for Parents for more information on deadlines.
I’m not an expert in Florida special education funding, but it seems pretty clear to me that the amount of a McKay Scholarship for a student who has a 504 Plan will be much less than the amount of even the lowest funding level of a McKay Scholarship for a student who has an IEP. That’s because the amount of a scholarship for a student eligible under Section 504 will be equal to the amount of funding the school district currently receives for the student through basic program funding (known as the Florida Education Finance Program (FEFP)), and will not include what’s called the ESE Guaranteed Allocation from the state, which is only for students who receive special education. And a 504 Plan is not legally considered “special education.”
Note that any child who uses the McKay Scholarship can only take state funds with them – not federal funds which stay with the school district or state, even if your child is in private school. Also, if the private school tuition is more than your McKay Scholarship amount, the parent is responsible for covering the remaining tuition cost. Temporary 504 Plans (lasting 6 months or less) are not eligible for the McKay Scholarship.