If your child is in a difficult school situation, you might choose to stay where you are and make the situation better. I can certainly help with that. But sometimes a school is just the wrong fit. Choosing a school for your child is much more than a choice between your neighborhood school and paying for a private school. If you are unhappy with your neighborhood school, you have lots of options – particularly if you plan ahead and particularly in Florida. Some of them are an exciting departure from school business-as-usual and most of them are free of charge (though you may have to travel outside of your neighborhood). One of my goals is to make these choices more accessible to parents.
Here are the broad categories of your school choices – Public Schools (in your neighborhood and outside your neighborhood), Scholarships/Vouchers, Magnet Schools, Charter Schools, Virtual Schools, and Home School. The Florida Department of Education has an excellent website on those choices and others. Keep in mind that you can also find school information and parent reviews of many types of schools at www.GreatSchools.net.
Public School Choice
Florida, and particularly Miami-Dade County, have excellent options for parents to transfer to schools outside their neighborhood that are not “overcrowded.” Parents of special needs students may be able to get transportation to the new school. Students with IEPs or 504 Plans have to the most flexibility to transfer schools through a McKay Scholarship public school option, but those without disabilities also have the option to do so depending upon your school district’s policies. Making School Work can help you to understand how this program works and help you apply. Email us at Allison@MakingSchoolWork.com.
Florida is ground-breaking in that it offers parents a variety of scholarship or voucher programs to private schools. In essence your public tax money is applied to private school tuition with these programs.
McKay Scholarship for Students with Disabilities Children who have a 504 Plan or IEP AND who have been enrolled in a Florida public school for at least a year are eligible to receive a certain dollar amount that they can use for a Florida K-12 private school tuition. Parents who want to stay in public school can also use this program to transfer to certain public schools that they prefer to their neighborhood school. Making School Work can help you to understand how this program works and acquire the full scholarship amount to which your child is entitled. Email us at Allison@MakingSchoolWork.com.
Gardiner Scholarship – a new personalized education savings account program for parents of students with “low-incidence” (relatively rare) disabilities (including Autism and Downs Syndrome). Parents or approved providers will be reimbursed or paid for the costs of therapies, tutoring, virtual school and tuition for disabled children who are not enrolled in a public school or using the McKay Scholarship. You did not need a 504 Plan or an IEP to obtain this scholarship and, unlike the McKay Scholarship, do not have to have spent any time enrolled in the public schools to get it. More information on how to apply is available here. Making School Work can help you understand how this program works and help you to put together a comprehensive program of approved services that meet your child’s unique needs. Email us at Allison@MakingSchoolWork.com.
Florida Tax Credit Scholarships Children whose families meet certain low-income requirements are eligible for a dollar amount that they can use to pay for a Florida preK-12 private school tuition. It can not be used in conjunction with the McKay Scholarship or Gardiner Scholarship. For more information on how to apply go to www.StepUpforStudents.org
Pre-K Specialized Instructional Services (VPK SIS) This is an additional option for parents of four‐year‐old children with disabilities that is available outside the traditional Voluntary Pre-K (VPK) classroom setting. If
your child has a current individual educational plan (IEP) from your local school district that calls for specialized instructional services, you can choose VPK SIS instead of traditional VPK school year or
summer programs. This voucher CAN be used while your child is enrolled in a public school PreK special education classroom as a four-year-old, but can not be used while your four-year-old child is enrolled in a VPK classroom.
Magnet schools are free public schools which offer a specialized theme or academic focus, but which are operated by your local school board. Often students must audition or try out for placement in a magnet program, such as for the performing arts. Because these schools are public, like charter schools, they can not turn your child away because he or she has a disability. If your child can pass the stated admissions requirements of the school, the magnet school essentially must accommodate their needs.
Charter Schools are free public schools which are run independently from your local school board. So, in theory they have more freedom to innovate and often provide specialized programs to diverse groups of students. While charters in Florida don’t have to provide the full continuum of classroom placements that traditional public schools do, they can’t turn your child away simply because he or she has a disability or an IEP or 504 Plan. This issue can get complicated depending on the needs of your child and the particular charter school, but the bottom line is that they are public schools and can not simply close the door on your child.
Included in the ones in the directories below there are a few charters that I’m aware of in South Florida which cater only to special needs children. For example, in Dade there’s the South Florida Autism Charter School.
Virtual schools are schools (publicly or privately funded) which are based on the Internet, and are generally not housed in physical locations. Generally virtual school students are educated at home but not always – there are now virtual charter schools in Florida and other states. Virtual schooling carries with it so many options, options that change virtually (no pun intended) every year due in part to changes in technology and changes in our own conceptualization of education. The Florida Department of Education makes these options are clear as possible on this site.
Home education is a parent-directed educational option. Some parents prepare their own materials and teach their children, while others take advantage of commercial materials and virtual school options.