The Special Needs Scholarship is a tax-credited scholarship program developed out of the Personal Learning Scholarship Account (PSLA) through Step Up For Students. The organization, Step Up For Students, is a Florida-based program providing Tax Credit Scholarships for students in grades K-12 whom live in or around poverty-stricken communities.
According to Step Up, the Special Needs Scholarship is unlike any other PSLA distributed scholarship, in that it provides a flexible spending allowance.
“[The scholarship] allows parents to personalize the education of their children with unique abilities by directing money toward a combination of programs and approved providers,” as stated on the Step Up For Students scholarship informational page.
The scholarship allows parents to use the money not only for educational planning for their child, but also towards therapy, medical and therapeutic specialists, technology and a savings for post-secondary education. The unique structure of the funds allows parents of children with special needs the opportunity to stretch the dollars towards items that are often overlooked by scholarship opportunities, especially for the developmentally disabled student. The scholarship offers better flexibility to ensure a special needs child is receiving the best possible care and eduction, which consequently compliments the all-encompassing techniques needed to provide an improved learning curricula.
Although Step Up For Students proclaim that the scholarship is different from their other PSLA opportunities, the Special Needs Scholarship will still include advantages from the standard PSLA scholarships. One benefit in-particular is the Personal Learning Plan Advisor. Experienced PSLA advisors grant tools necessary to families by helping assist with educational planning now, and for the future. Additionally, family’s receiving the PSLA scholarship will have access to a free online tool, which allows them to access their child’s progress in the palm of their hand.
Eligibility requirements for the PSLA Special Needs Scholarship are as follows:
- Applicant must be a Florida student in any grade, Kindergarten though 12th with an Intellectual Disability (severe cognitive impairment) or one of the five developmental disabilities (Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Prader-Willi Syndrom, Spina bifida, or Williams Syndrome).
- Kindergarten students regarded as “high risk” of developmental delays, may be of eligibility (click to read detailed descriptions of eligibility)
- Applicant must contain an Individual Education Plan (IEP) from a Florida school district; OR
- Formal diagnosis from a licensed physician or psychologist.
- If applicant is attending Kindergarten, the student must be 5 years old or turning 5 before Sept. 1 of the academic year in which they are applying.
- If applicant is attending first grade, the student must be 6 years old on or before Sept. 1 of the academic year in which they are applying.
- If homeschooled, the student cannot be enrolled in any other public school and/or receiving any other academic special needs scholarship.
Currently, there is not a standard or set dollar amount dedicated to each scholarship recipient, rather the amount varies by severity of developmental disease and grade. For the 1,800 students receiving the scholarship in 2014-2015, the average amount was $10,000 (expected to increase for 2015-2016), which are awarded on a first-come first-served basis. Students will continue to receive scholarship money up to graduation of high school, age 22 or until the student returns to public school.
If scholarship money is not entirely used up by the student at the end of the academic year for which it is dispersed, the money will rollover into the next school year. Additionally, the rollover money can remain in place until the student graduates from post-secondary schooling (i.e. college and/or technical institute), or until four years after high school graduations with no high education attended or completed.
Step Up continues a rolling application process for the 2014-2015 school year, which is available on their website. To learn more about Step Up for Students, the Special Needs Scholarship and how to apply; please visit: www.stepupforstudents.org.
Step Up For Students. Web. 21 Aug., 2014. <http://www.stepupforstudents.org>.
“Special Needs Scholarship." Step Up For Students. Web. 21 Aug., 2014. <http://www.stepupforstudents.org/special-needs-scholarship/plsa>.
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