Gardiner scholarships are more about giving welfare to the well off than helping disabled children

This is from the Gardiner Parent handbook

First faxing? Um, it’s 2019 who does that?

So say I am poor just barely making it, my child has a significant disability and I am not happy with my public school, so I apply for the scholarship, and I get the money put into their account. If I have to pay out of pocket, the thing is its not going to happen.

Now I get it, maybe I can have some of the service providers submit invoices, but does this system seem like its set up for poor kids from poor families, i.e. the ones who could probably use it the most? It sure doesn’t seem like it to me.

Sigh, welcome to Florida where those kids who need it the most often get it the least.

I wrote this five years ago and it seems like not much has changed.

I am not a fan of school vouchers for a multitude of reasons and I am also a proud member of one of the state’s teacher unions and despite this I had some trepidation when the union, supported by various groups filed a lawsuit against the latest incarnation of vouchers, the personal learning scholarships for children with disabilities. The right framed the debate as if you were against the new voucher program then you are against disabled children and I am not. You see I work at a public school just for severely disabled children and my families most of whom are very poor could really use some help and I thought maybe these scholarships could do so.

Then I learned the truth.

If you have a severely disabled child attending a public school you are not eligible for these scholarships. Furthermore families have to spend the money first and then are reimbursed. What poor families do you know that can spend 4,000 dollars on tuition, 1,000 on extra therapies or even a couple hundred on a laptop? The answer is there aren’t many which means these scholarships aren’t for the poor and most needy families but are actually welfare for the well off. 

I am not saying the families that get the scholarships don’t have needs but I am saying the scholarships are not going to the families that need them the most. So next time you or somebody you know gets mad at the despicable unions suing to stop the state from helping disabled children just remember who the money is really helping which is those families that need it the least or not at all. Then ask yourself why Rick Scott and the Republican legislature would create a program 
that excludes the most needy to help the most well off.

From the Tampa Times:

 John loves drawing cartoons and has encyclopedic knowledge of movies. He socializes with his friends regularly, but sometimes struggles to understand nuance and facial cues.

Now, more therapy is an option, mother Mary said.
“The copays have been very expensive,” she said. “This will take some of the stress and strain off the family budget.”
Mary Kurnik is mulling over other ways to spend the money. She could use some of it for textbooks and classroom supplies, or put it away in his prepaid college tuition account.
Or maybe a nice therapeutic family vacation to the magic kingdom. Sheesh, this lady hardly seems desperate does she. She and her family have options, lots of option. The kids in my school don’t and this program doesn’t give them any either.

38 Replies to “Gardiner scholarships are more about giving welfare to the well off than helping disabled children”

  1. You seem to have a major misunderstanding of what Gardiner is and how it works. OF COURSE children in public schools are not eligible for the scholarship, as the scholarship is a replacement for services provided by the local district and is funded by transferring the student's public school dollar allocation to the scholarship account. Any child in public school with an eligible medical condition or disability can apply to transfer their education to Gardiner scholarship.

    Access to the funds is heavily controlled. Parents can't just spend willy-nilly on whatever they want (and theme park tickets are absolutely NOT an approved item, despite your hostile comment implying that). Expenses go through multiple levels of approvals, even for items that are supposedly on the "approved" list. Documentation is required to verify both purchase and payment. As you must know if you have read the handbook, there are limits on technology items, and they are strictly enforced.

    It's absolutely NOT true that this program excludes the state's neediest families because they can't homeschool or front the money for expenses. There are many, many private schools around the state that enroll Gardiner-funded students via direct pay with SUFS so parents don't have to pay out of pocket. In addition, the recently made available My Scholar Shop program allows families to purchase items and have them paid for directly by SUFS, instead of paying out of pocket. Several educational book vendors as well as Best Buy currently participate.

    As for the allegation that this program takes away from the public schools….my daughter using Gardiner is in fact a net financial win for the local district. She cost way more money for them to educate than she was bringing to them in funding . She receives less in funding via Gardiner than her funding would have been to the district. Her being on Gardiner is thus a net financial win for both the district AND the taxpayers.

    My 15 year old daughter is pretty severely autistic. When she was starting 6th grade, the local district announced their intention to put her in a regular classroom. This was a child who had no concept of personal safety and was not allowed to walk the school's halls alone, and who wet herself when the fire alarm went off. But because she was "performing at grade level" (which we found out later was a farce), we were told they had no choice under new district regulations but to put her in a regular classroom. She wouldn't have even been safe, let alone able to learn anything. Our choices were to pull her out, or sue the district – a process we couldn't afford and that in any event would take years, while she was stuck in limbo in an unsafe situation. We did virtual school for a year but since she couldn't perform at grade level (as we discovered), we had to leave that. Our only choice was homeschool. Gardiner has paid for her to get desperately needed speech and OT that she wouldn't otherwise get. It's also paid for the supplies like books, an online curriculum, and other items for her to have a personalized education that allows her to learn while accommodating her deficits. My daughter is, quite frankly, getting a much better education now than she ever got in public school because we go at her pace and she doesn't move on until she understands something, instead of being dragged along with the classroom's schedule no matter what.

  2. I understand that many people oppose voucher programs because they think that all the money is being spent on religious education. In fact, many of the schools accepting Gardiner funds are private schools specializing in educating children with autism and are non-religious. And not all homeschoolers are religious either. The fastest-growing group of homeschoolers are in fact non-religious families like ours, driven to homeschooling by problems with local school districts.

    You're obviously hostile to this program, and it's affecting the way you view everything about it. (Yeah, it's kind of antiquated that SUFS has fax instructions for submissions, but it's really not worth ranting about.) I'd ask that you take some time and talk to parents who actually USE Gardiner about what it has done for their kids' education and even health in many cases. I think, if you can look past your current bias, you'll be impressed with what you will see.

    1. Maybe I am not the one with the bias, have you considered you are? Here is a program that works for you and so automatically you must think it works for everyone, that nobody is taking advantage of the system which is set up for easy abuse.

  3. You are missing the point of the piece. Should a family that makes a million dollars get the scholarship? What about 500k or 100k, should any family no matter how much income get the scholarship? The school DeSantis made his announcement at has an annual tuition of 15,500, how many of those families are truly desperate or are just taking advantage of the program which benefits the wealthy over the poor. I get it, its hard to look past your family and your needs, but education and I know it might sound counter intuitive to you, is not here just to serve your families needs, its here to serve all of ours, and i would like to make sure our limited resources go to the most needy.

  4. Your article here is grossly exaggerated on how the actual scholarship works. It IS helping those that need it the most. I can promise you the parents on students on this scholarship are not millionaires and to suggest so is honestly laughable. We have every right to want our children to have a proper education and the tools they need to receive it. In our case, public school was failing our children. They were not providing the services needed for our children to succeed and the money from this scholarship allows them to either attend a private school that will, or parents can homeschool their children and purchase curriculum, pay for tutors, occupational therapy, behavioral therapy, ABA therapy, etc. You mention how much money a person makes should make them ineligible for scholarships, and there is a tax scholarship that is in place specifically for low income families. I cannot fathom how you then decided to attack a scholarship that is meant for disabled students. That is just mind boggling. You have options for your child. You can attend public school or apply for scholarships at private or charter schools. For those of us with differently abled children, we have so many less options and to see another parents attack us, attack a program that has helped our children to blossom, is honestly very hurtful and a little disgusting as well.

  5. By the way, most of the schools are reimbursed directly from the scholarship and it does not come out of the pocket by the parent. There is a website set up with vendors where the scholarship funds can be used directly so that students that their parents cannot pay out of pocket can get items that are needed, such as a computer or printer, or a sensory item. Not everything has to be paid out of pocket and then reimbursed. It's a truly amazing program and you really should do better research if you are going to attack something you obviously know very little information about.

    1. There isn't one, that's the beauty of it. No one with a qualifying child will be turned away. Sure, it may be unfair for people who could afford to not have the scholarship to use it anyway, but there are people who abuse 'the system' everyday. For example, people who work partially under the table in order to qualify for food stamps and free/cheap medical. It happens– it doesn't make the program any less wonderful for those who need these scholarships and receive them.

    2. Why should it matter the financial status of parents? Are public schools allowed to deny appropriate educations to children of wealthy families because they could afford to send their kids elsewhere? We are a country with publically funded education for all.

      I agree that perhaps wealthier individuals could go without this scholarship for their children and fare alright, but this isn't a scholarship for the family, it's for the child based on their special needs.

    3. Why should corporate welfare matter or tax breaks to millionaires and billionaires? If you don't just instinctively know giving money to the wealthy while the poor and working class have unmet needs I can't explain it to you.

    4. Parents do not get the funds. They must be used to educate the awarded child and every dollar is accounted for by an overseeing entity. Your argument is a red herring. This is not welfare, it is publically funded education for special needs kids.

      I'm as liberal as they come in almost all things, but I dont think you understand what ththe scholarship really is.

    5. If the tuition to my child's private school was 15,500 and now I have this and I spend the ten k on tuition, I have just save that money. In effect I have 10 grand more in my pocket. If I have money to buy a computer and I use that money to buy one. I have saved that money. I could go on and on.

    6. Unfortunately my 'options' are rather limited for my child who will likely never become an independent adult and will need care when I'm dead. If I had any real options in this i would take that reality away. I am grateful I have been given a few more options right now to give him the best possible shot. I don't begrudge those wealthier than me the same thing.

  6. Special Needs Scholarships do not typically have an income qualification. This is true for other similar Florida Scholarships that have been around much longer than Gardiner. All of these scholarships are heavily monitored. This article paints a broad, inaccurate picture. This scholarship effectively meets the needs of unique learners in a way our traditional school day programs cannot.

    1. I think vouchers to private schools that provide programs that public schools don't is completely acceptable.

  7. There is not income cut out it is not about being poor it is about having a kid with special needs. What do you think that just because we have a economic stability we don’t need help with our child’s needs? Do you know how much cost to raise a kid with special needs? Jesus people is full of themselves the more you earn the more you have to pay in taxes so if This can get help at least with one of the million expenses for my child the heck I’m going to Apply this is why we pay texes.

    1. That is absolutely not why we pay taxes. We pay them, all of us whether we have children or not, because having an educated society is beneficial. What the wealthy that take advantage of this are doing is double dipping, and I get it that sounds mean, but as long as there isn't limits, then the program where it might benefit a lot of the needy is welfare for the well off…

  8. Wow…just wow…ignorance is certainly bliss in this article. First, I feel that unless you have a special needs child and are receiving the Gardinier Scholarship, then you can not have a full educational knowledge or understanding on the impact and benefit of it, regardless of household income. Every single family receiving the Gardinier Scholarship regardless of income, has a VERY different and unique story and circumstance. One families story is not “poorer” or “less fortunate” than the other. The daily needs and struggle we parents face with our special needs child, or children in some cases, should not be dismissed or judged by those not going through it. That makes this article very unsettling and flat out disrespectful. To second the prior comments, trust me when I say that if you take each Gardinier recipients income, subtract the scholarship amount AND ALL of the other expenses we pay out…no one is walking away a millionaire. Again, ignorance is bliss….right?

    1. I can be sympathetic to families with disabled children and still think they shouldn't receive public money. I think our public funds should go to families with great needs, not those who think hey an extra ten grand and that's what this system without limits sets up. Ignorance is bliss but it is for you be cause ll you can see is what works for you. Heck half the commentors above said they don't care how much a family makes, well I do especially since so many people's needs are going unmet.

  9. You are incredibly judgemental of something you know very little about. I supposed by criticizing this you want everyone to come down to the lowest common denominator, which is currently disabled kids warehoused in the public school system. There are two companies that administer the scholarshipz Step Up for Students and also AAA. If a parent can not afford to wait to be reimbursed, they sign up with AAA. AAA drops the money in a parents account after they submit a Pre-auth. Instead of harming poor families, this scholarship empowers them.

    1. Disabled kids warehousesd in public schools? Oh vey that's both ignorant and judgemental. Is the scholarship appropriate for some? Sure. Is it appropriate for all that get it? My bet is not, and you will forgive for Not apoligizing because I want to make sure only the most needful receive it.

  10. I'm a single, working, middle-class mom and my daughter has medical issues that preclude her from going to school full-time (public or private). I pay taxes just like the next person, only my daughter does not benefit from the educational system I'm paying into. She needs OT/PT and other services that she would normally be covered at her local school if she could go. You would begrudge her the support the state would normally be providing anyway in an alternative form? How much do you think each student costs the educational system each year when they attend a public school? In the 2016-2017 school year, Florida spent $7,178 per student per year and the national average is about $11, 392 per student per year. My daughter should be eligible for the same amount as every other student in this state. How it gets paid out is irrelevant because it would get spent from the education budget regardless. I'm sure my daughter's health would be mismanaged in a school setting so I'd be losing personal income and most likely have the ability to litigate against the school system if my daughter was harmed, which is more costly to everyone in the long run.

    1. Um you don't pay taxes for your daughter, you pay, just like everyone does including millions and millions without children or who have graduated so we have an educated society. Once again the scholarship is appropriate for some but I won't apologize for believing we need to make sure the most needy receive it first.

    2. Chris, I truly hope you never have a special needs child and have to struggle with making the decision of what is the right decision for them. It is a heartbreaking decision with so many struggles along the way. You come across as very heartless in your attempt to only cover the neediest of needy. The neediest do get covered under this scholarship. And there is also a scholarship for families that are low income. There are also plenty of private schools that will walk the parents through how to apply for these, if that is an issue. Also, there are groups out there that will pay (out of their pockets) for kids to be homeschooled. They cover nothing else than that, so it would probably not be for special needs kids. But your complaint about the program not funding the neediest is inaccurate. That means you don't have to be less than pleasant to others. Otherwise, it just comes across as one looking to instigate parents like me who are already dealing with enough. If you really want to help the neediest people and you feel they are not getting the help they need by being unable to get these programs, then maybe you need to set up a non-profit that helps those parents learn how to apply for such programs. Instead, you are just bashing hard working parents that you really know nothing about. I am sure you are a great person to talk to in person. But this just is not a flattering way to accomplish your task. No one has attacked you. They are trying to help you both to understand that there are things you don't understand. Don't just speak loudly. If this is truly how you feel, then actually help people by doing, not by being snarky.

    3. and who are these most needy first? Who gets to determine who they are, you? There is already a scholarship specifically for those that are in a certain income bracket. There are over 10,000 students on that scholarship. You never answered why you are attacking a scholarship specifically created for disabled students, when there is already a scholarship in place for low income families.

    4. There are lots of different vouchers that serve different childten, this is about Gardiner scholarships. Off the top of my head and leaving lots of room for discussion I would say only students coming from public school and three to four times the poverty level should be elligible and I also think families should only be eligible for services that local public schools did not provide. I get it you will disagree.

  11. My son is nonverbal, moderately Autistic and mildly Intellectually Disabled with a number of medical concerns, but he is bright and capable of learning and is the sweetest little boy. I quit my job teaching High school math at a public school because our only option for him in public school was a "multi" room because he is not potty independent. It was the kind of learning environment I can only describe as extremely and inappropriately restrictive for a child like mine, with little to no academic work being done. The goal for the entire kindergarten year was to get kids used to the routine of school. That's it. Sit when told to sit, color when told to color, be quiet when its time to be quiet. I was told that since such a room is available they cannot provide him an aid to accompany him to a less restrictive environment to help make that accessible. We opted out of what we felt was an inappropriate education for him and went it alone.

    We homeschooled. We went into debt funding therapies that actually helped him learn and grow. When I found out about Gardiner it was the answer for our family. We tried to find private schools with McKay and the Low Income Scholarship and there were no good fits within an hour of us. Suddenly I could get therapy and now we are adding ABA, I could purchase curriculum to educate him at home, and we could really provide him the education he deserved to receive from the public school, but cannot logistically be provided my unique student. This was not financially possible before this scholarship. We aren't poor, but we have other children to think of. and remember–we are a one-income household since his needs are restrictive to me getting full time employment. Do you know how much ABA therapy costs? Even with decent insurance?

    Why not figure out a way the Gardiner funds could be used by those most in need, if you indeed feel my son is not among them? Why take a good thing away from my child in order to somehow level the playing field for those you would like to see benefitted who currently aren't? Why not just draw the circle bigger and help more, not remove lifelines from thousands of special needs children?

  12. I would just like to point out that the whole income thing should not matter. Yes, yes, hear me out. When a child goes to public school, so much is alotted for each child at each school. That amount of money doesn't change one way or the other based on the family's income. It is a blanket amount. Now, throw in a kid that is special needs and the cost increases based on the kid's needs. Again, the state or county doesn't say, "No, you can't have more money because of how much you make." Neither do they say, "You don't make enough money. Here is more money to help your child." Trust me, we were in this type of situation. We could not afford therapy and the public school was fighting us every step of the way. We were almost to the point of suing the county. After an advocate stepped in, we finally got help, but not the therapy he needed. The school funding for his special needs and his attendance was more than the cost of what Gardiner gives us. But, I have been able to use direct pay for therapy and My Scholarshop for most of the things we need to buy. No, we are not the poorest people around. But we do struggle. But going back to income mattering, if this is your fight, then it should be balanced with how the public schools fund each child. Does one child deserve less of an education than another? No. Each child is funded a blanket amount for the schools to educate them. So, all the state is doing is using the funds that would be used for them if they attend public school. And in return, because these kids are being better educated based on their needs (not saying that public school education is bad, I'm saying that it is not the right program for kids like our son), the state will end up having more well educated adults. In turn, that will help Florida be more successful futuristically. We don't educate for today. We educate for the future.
    To touch on what some others have said, plenty of private schools and therapists are direct pay. You CANNOT buy whatever you want with the funds. It does not work that way. They are very strict on it. In fact,sometimes they don't cover things that should be covered. And you CANNOT fund a trip to a theme park. It is not a scholarship for luxury. And it is a scholarship for even the neediest. I have seen people on the forum who were in tears because they could not have provided anything for their kids otherwise. They owned next to nothing and yet the scholarship allows them to provide their needs. You need to do more research on this before making the blanketed statements you are making.
    Thanks to the scholarship, we could afford ABA therapy for our son. We can afford to homeschool him. This is our 4th year doing this. We went from having an anxious kid, with a lot of problems, to a kid that is going to make something of himself. Yes, he still has struggles. But we will keep working through them thanks to Gardiner.

  13. Whoa. I'm a single parent of an autistic child living well below the poverty line. You are so misinformed here. This scholarship has changed my childs life.

    1. It sounds like your family is deserving of the scholarship. I am talking about families that can afford the tuition and or other services on their own that take advantange.

  14. This hit Piece is disgusting and inaccurate. The grant continues to improve every year with more direct pay providers, products and services. As an adoptive mother of five disabled children I am incredibly grateful for this exceptional grant! Myself and thousands and thousands of other parents fought for this grant and a better option for our disabled children who are often neglected and abused in public school and cannot speak for themselves. The public schools let our children down! I stay at home to teach them myself in a safe, clean and structured environment. They are non verbal and deserve the love patience and safety of their own home while learning at their own pace. The public school wanted to lay my son with CP on the bathroom floor? They had one teacher for 12 special needs students. My children don't need daycare, they need life skills and an education. This grant allows them to get the VERY BEST education possible. If public school parents of typical children and teachers at those schools feel like they are getting shafted then they should fight for their kids services NOT bash ours.

    1. Because you are giving them the education? Neglected and abused in our public education system? Oy vey, if you want to bash public ed his is not the place, your comment is over the top and reads like a pitch for a Hallmark movie where the evil step mom sees disabled kids as dollar signs.

  15. So I am not going to condemn the entire education system only say that it failed my oldest son. Both of my kids have high functioning autism and when my oldest was in a government ran school, they placed him in a lower ability class but not a special needs class. After countless meetings with the school they finally did a speech evaluation and found that he was at level. We then took him to do an independent speech evaluation and they scored him well below what the school did.

    Our reality was that the school was passing him over for students that were worse off than him. The school's education plan was for him to repeat first grade and he hadn't even started it yet. He was finishing kindergarten and not reading. Within two weeks of homeschooling, he was reading. We found the right curriculum for him and that is what made the difference.

    We found that the school system was failing us, we found the right therapy and the right tools to help our kids. While I do have a well paying job, and relatively good insurance the cost of therapies is high. We use most of the scholarship for therapies and additional teaching aids outside the home. It does help with curriculum but it certainly isn't welfare.

    Our cost to support our children with the scholarship is much higher than the average parent will endure.

    I will add to this, your article is very biased against not using the government supported education system. There are a lot of alternatives out there and people should be free to use them and use the funds that is associated with the child how they see fit. I would state that if it were my choice I would extend the Gardner Scholarship in its intent to every student to give the freedom of the parent to support their children as they see fit and as best serves them.

  16. "She and her family have options, lots of option. The kids in my school don't and this program doesn't give them any either." So your upset at parents who get the scholarship and can use it for things like expensive therapies and curriculum items for their special needs kids but not upset with the actual school district for their lack of providing similar services to your students? What are you after exactly? One of my son's therapists TRIED to go to the school district and into the classroom to provide sensory therapy and explain about sensory issues in kids and they turned her down. I think you can only go so far in blaming parents for wanting what's best for their kids. I think public school kids deserve the same but if the district isn't willing or in some cases even able to effectively help…that's on them.

  17. CHris YOU JUST DO NOT GET IT. The money is INSTEAD distributed to the parents to use for what they were suppose to be getting in school. THe schools are NOT equipped to handle the amount of kids that are coming into the district with MANY different levels of Autism. My son was being denied the education that we pay for through our taxes. If and when they get the necessary inclusion therapies/teachers/aids then I will rethink sending him to public school. In the meantime he will continue to use the scholarship to help with his teachers/therapies and everything else he has been able to do thanks to this scholarship!

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