DeSantis Seeks to Boost Money in Scholarship Program

DeSantis Seeks to Boost Money in Scholarship Program

By Jim Turner, The News Service of Florida

TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday touted a proposal to spend an additional $18.8 million next year on a program that provides voucher-like scholarships to students with disabilities, saying he trusts “parents to make the best decision” for the education of their children.

DeSantis appeared at schools in Jacksonville and Longwood to discuss his budget proposal, which would provide enough money to eliminate an 1,800-student waiting list in the Gardiner Scholarship Program. At the Pace Brantley School in Longwood, the governor was joined by former Senate President Andy Gardiner, who spearheaded creation of the program.

“We will be fighting for this money,” said DeSantis, who also appeared at the North Florida School of Special Education in Jacksonville. “I think we’re going to get it because I think most people realize it’s money well-spent.”

DeSantis, who took office Jan. 8, is a supporter of school-choice programs, which have been among the most-controversial issues in the state’s education system for the past two decades. Supporters say voucher-type programs and charter schools give more opportunities to parents and students, while critics argue they strip money from traditional public schools and lack accountability.

But the Gardiner Scholarship Program has drawn relatively little controversy compared to other school-choice programs. As of October, it served nearly 12,000 students, with an average scholarship of $10,418, according to information posted on the state Department of Education website.

Families can use the money for a variety of purposes, including educational materials and therapy services, but 68 percent use it for tuition and fees at private schools, the Department of Education website said. The largest group of students in the program, 66 percent, are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, while others have disabilities such as cerebral palsy or Down syndrome.

Gardiner, whose son, Andrew, has Down syndrome, served as Senate president from 2014 and 2016 and made a priority of issues involving people with disabilities — or “unique abilities” as he calls them. He said he began creating the program in 2014.

“What’s special about this scholarship is it allows for a parent to decide what is in the best interest of their child,” Gardiner, an Orlando Republican, said. “Maybe it’s more speech therapy, maybe it’s more occupational therapy. Maybe it’s tuition.”

The Gardiner Scholarship money was included in a $91.3 billion budget proposal that DeSantis released Friday for the 2019-2020 fiscal year. Lawmakers will use the proposal as a starting point as they negotiate a final spending plan during the legislative session that starts March 5.

If his Gardiner Scholarship proposal is approved, funding for the program would increase to $147.1 million during the coming year, according to budget information from DeSantis’ office.

DeSantis has quickly focused on education issues since taking office, releasing a series of initiatives. And while he backs school choice, he also indicated Monday he is working with Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran on a proposal to increase accountability for charter-school operators.

“For the charter operators, if they’re coming in and doing these fly-by-night charters, where they open up, make some money and leave, we’re going to create a … list to where you’re blacklisted in Florida from being able to get these contracts in the future,” DeSantis said. “If you’re a bad actor, you’re going on the list, and we’re not going to let you move around to different communities, make money and then not serve the interests of students and parents.”

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4 Responses to "DeSantis Seeks to Boost Money in Scholarship Program"

  1. Mark   February 5, 2019 at 8:12 am

    I hope someone looks into the abominably poor services provided by Leon County Public Schools under the direction of Rocky Hanna, Alan Cox and Gregory for students with special needs. The school district continues to be sued for a lack of services and a lack of therapy that they provide. It is an antiquated system that shows that Rocky Hanna does not care about students with special needs. Leon County Schools has an unequal system of student services, if you are poor or have special needs you are going to schools and services that provide the bare minimum, sometimes less than minimum. Hanna spends close to a million dollars on salaries for Assistant Superintendents but very few dollars on services for at risk youth. Rocky Hanna an enabler of over paid micromanagers. When Rocky Hanna ran for office said “I wanted all schools to look equal” …Hanna it’s about what goes on in the classroom not the bricks that people look at as they drive by.

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  2. Mimi   February 5, 2019 at 3:38 pm

    For children with IEPs – over 6000 in Leon County – the school district gets additional federal grant money that flows through the state for each child to help educate that child. By taking that money on the children’s behalf, Rocky and his team agree to follow the rules and use the federal dollars to help the kids. But they don’t – ESE is so raft with incompetency, bigotry and unethical practices that the money is squandered and doesn’t go to the children who need it or even the schools they attend. This is just another example of the public school system digging its own grave and giving ammunition to school choice advocates, although I think the new governor did what is talked about in this article because he cares about children. Wish that Rocky and the Leon County School District would follow the governor’s example and start caring about all kids.

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    • Pretty Petty   February 7, 2019 at 4:05 pm

      That’s just it….People don’t recognize what’s happening all over the country. There’s a move to end public school all together. It’s a huge huge expenditure and a monster to reform in its current state. It’s just easier to do away with the whole idea of brick and mortar public schools and move to a virtual model where education is still provided for free, it just won’t be provided in the expensive way it’s done now. At first I was against the change, but our schools are just plain ineffective. No reason to keep spending billions of tax dollars on a model that isn’t working. I think maybe a combo of virtual plus social skills days??? and boarding schools for those who need more. It’s time to try something new.

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  3. Mark   February 6, 2019 at 7:36 am

    Rocky Hanna’s claim of sovereign immunity that he is taking up now that is being sued by almost everyone that was on his hit-list is laughable. Rocky Hanna cares more about self-preservation and cronyism than he does providing services to our neediest students. The entire Hanna leadership team and current school board members should all be replaced with people who care more about students and teachers then they do their own self-preservation. The school board either has read the hancocks report or should when Rocky Hanna admits he made the whole thing up. So the school board holds meetings every two weeks they look the superintendent squarely in the eye and refused to hold him accountable for costing the district close to a million dollars on a fabricated set of information that Rocky Hanna parlayed into winning an election.

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