The John M. McKay Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Program, commonly known as simply the McKay Scholarship Program, provides K-12 students with special needs options for enrolling in participating private schools in Florida. Established in 1999, the program aims to give parents of students with disabilities more choices for their children’s education.
This article provides a comprehensive overview of the McKay Scholarship Program, including definitions of key terms, eligibility requirements, the application process, funding amounts, and important considerations for parents.
How To Apply For McKay Scholarships
In order to qualify for a McKay Scholarship, a student must meet the following criteria:
- Have an active Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or 504 Accommodation Plan from their Florida public school district
- Be entering kindergarten through 12th grade for the upcoming school year
- Have spent the prior school year enrolled in a Florida public school OR be a dependent child of a member of the U.S. Armed Forces who transfers to Florida
- Submit a completed application during the designated application period
- Choose to enroll in a participating private school that has available space for incoming students
Students must have a disability as defined by IDEA and be classified by their public school district accordingly. Simply having some special needs or learning challenges does not qualify a student if they are not designated with a recognized disability status. Appropriate documentation of the student’s disability classification must be provided along with the application.
The application period for McKay Scholarships occurs once annually between April 1st and June 1st preceding the upcoming school year. Interested parents can obtain an application from the Florida Department of Education website or request a paper application.
Key steps in the application process include:
- Gather required documentation – This includes proof of Florida residency, the student’s latest IEP or 504 plan, report cards or progress reports, and selection of participating private schools.
- Complete the online or paper application form – Provide student and parent/guardian identifying information, select 3 preferred private schools, agree to the program terms and parent/student responsibilities.
- Submit by the June 1st deadline – Applications must be electronically submitted before 11:59 PM on June 1st. Paper applications should be postmarked no later than June 1st.
- Wait for approval notification – Eligibility determinations are made within 30 days. Approved applicants receive an award letter listing the awarded funding amount and expiration of eligibility.
- Enroll at selected private school – Upon approval, the family can reach out to their selected school(s) to enroll for the upcoming school year. Seats will be held pending award notification.
Scholarship Funding Amounts
The amount of funding awarded under a McKay Scholarship is based upon the maximum base student allocation of the Florida Education Finance Program for the student’s grade level and the school district in which the student resides. For the 2022-23 school year, the allocated amounts are:
- Autism (CAPE) schools – 100% of the unweighted FTE funding amount
- Residential Schools – 100% of the unweighted FTE funding amount
- Other participating private schools – Amount varies based on district:
- District 1 (Big Bend) – $7,646
- District 2 (NE Florida) – $7,426
- District 30 (Miami-Dade) – $8,011
The award amount goes directly to the participating private school to pay for the student’s education. Any costs beyond that such as transportation, uniforms or additional educational services remain the family’s responsibility. The award is valid for 1 school year but families can re-apply annually as long as the student remains eligible.
Using a McKay Scholarship
Once obtaining an award, parents work directly with their selected private school to enroll their child and use the McKay Scholarship funds towards tuition and approved fees. Here are some key points about utilizing the scholarship:
- Tuition payments will be made to the school, not reimbursed to parents. Funds cannot be transferred between schools.
- Attendance must meet school requirements to maintain the scholarship from year to year.
- Students must take any state-mandated assessments required of public school students like the FSA.
- Schools are required to advise parents of the student’s progress and follow standard accommodations in the IEP or 504 plan.
- Ongoing eligibility is contingent on an annual IEP or re-evaluation meeting with recommendations for continued exceptional student education services.
- Scholarships are terminated if a student returns to public school or enrolls in a non-participating private school.
Considerations for Parents
There are factors for parents to weigh carefully when deciding whether to pursue a McKay Scholarship, as utilizing the award does come with some considerations:
- Out-of-pocket costs for additional fees, transportation, supplies or tutoring may still apply depending on the private school.
- Selecting the best academic fit and ensuring the private school can meet the student’s unique needs as specified in the IEP or 504 plan.
- Public school IEP services like speech therapy, occupational therapy or ABA therapy may not be fully available at some private schools.
- Future educational transitions like high school graduation, Bright Futures scholarships or postsecondary options may have different eligibility rules.
- Loss of access to extracurricular activities, after school programs and specialized public school supports for things like assistive technology or low-vision aids.
- Transportation responsibilities now fall to parents instead of the school district. Reimbursements may be available in some cases.
- Consider commitments to both public school deadlines each spring and private school enrollment/financial aid timelines.
Overall, the McKay Scholarship Program aims to empower parents of students with special needs. With research, selecting the right fit academically and understanding program guidelines fully, it can be a valuable option for some families. Careful evaluation of individual student needs is important.
In summary, the John M. McKay Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Program provides eligible Florida students access to private school options through needs-based scholarships. Requirements focus on having a recognized disability classification and public school enrollment history.
An annual application process determines eligibility and funding amounts based on school district and grade level. Once awarded, parents work directly with chosen private schools to utilize scholarship dollars and ensure ongoing IEP or 504 plan supports.
While beneficial for some situations, the McKay Scholarship also requires consideration of potential logistical hurdles or services not fully available. With thorough research and understanding program guidelines and responsibilities fully, it can empower some families of students with special needs to customize their child’s educational experience.
Definitions of Key Terms
There are a few important terms related to the McKay Scholarship Program that require definition:
Disability: For the purposes of the McKay Scholarship, a “disability” refers to students who are eligible and receive services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
This includes students classified as intellectually disabled, autistic, emotionally/behaviorally disabled, deaf or hard of hearing, specific learning disabled, orthopedically impaired, other health impaired, speech impaired, language impaired, visually impaired, or traumatic brain injured.
Public school student: To be eligible for a McKay Scholarship, a student must be currently enrolled in a Florida public school or have spent the prior school year enrolled in a Florida public school.
Private school: Participating private schools that accept McKay Scholarship students must meet certain criteria set by the state. They can be religious or non-religious in affiliation and include private schools, parochial schools, colleges, and university laboratory schools.
School district: Refers to the Florida school district that the student would otherwise be assigned to attend based on their residential address. This determines the funding amount provided by the McKay Scholarship.