The choices for students, particularly for students with unique learning needs, have grown exponentially over the past decade. Florida is the nation's leader in providing students and their families with educational freedom, earning the number one in the nation ranking for the Center for Education Reform's Parent Power Index. Charter Schools and various Scholarship Voucher programs allow parents to select an option that best meets the unique needs of their child. Each option is different and there are pros/cons to consider for each one. Here is some basic information on each option as well as considerations:
Charter Schools are non-profit agencies operating an innovative public school. There are over 726 charter schools located throughout Florida educating over 382,000 students.
Charter Schools have accountability similar to other public schools (i.e. students take state testing, the school has performance goals, teachers are required to be certified, all staff are required to pass background screenings, etc.).
There are different kinds of charter schools, including schools specifically focused on a type of disability (i.e. autism) as well as unique approaches (i.e. focus on arts/STEM).
Tuition is 100% free for any child from Kindergarten – 12th grade (and some charter schools also accept students with an IEP/IFSP ages 12 months – PreK).
You have to apply for admission to a charter school, and there is usually only a certain number of slots available. If more students than slots are available, then the charter school conducts a random lottery. Recent legislation allowed a child to attend any charter school regardless of where you live (as space allows).
All services on a student's Individual Education Plan (i.e. therapy) are required to be provided.
Each School District website will list the charter schools in that district. For more information:
There are many private schools throughout Central Florida, including some that focus on different kinds of disabilities using various approaches/service models, which allow parents a plethora of choices. Private schools are independent schools and are not monitored by the state and also not mandated by law to follow/provide the services from a child’s Individual Education Plan (IEP) such as therapy services. They are not required to follow any specific regulations regarding teacher certification (i.e. teachers are not required to have a degree/certification, undergo background checks, etc.)
Florida supports parent's choice to attend a private school by providing opportunities to apply for and use various scholarships/vouchers. Please note - to use any of these scholarships – the child must withdraw from public school, which means the school district/school is no longer required to provide the student with free appropriate public education or provide any services (i.e., therapy). You cannot be enrolled in a public school (including a charter school) and use any of these scholarship programs. There is a cap on the number of scholarships available to be funded, and usually, you need to apply/get accepted before the beginning of the school year. The amount of the scholarship reflects the amount the student would have received in the public school to which the student is assigned. The scholarship may not cover the full costs of private school. Parents are responsible for any tuition or fees above the scholarship amount.
Family Empowerment Scholarship (FES)
The Family Empowerment Scholarship Program was established in 2019 by the Florida legislature. There are two FES programs – Education Options and Students with Unique Abilities.
Educational Options Scholarship (FES-EO)
The parent of a student may apply for and receive from the state a scholarship if the student is a Florida resident and is eligible to enroll in kindergarten through grade 12 in a public school in this state.
Priority is given first to students whose household income level does not exceed 185% of the federal poverty level or who is in foster care or out-of-home care, then to students whose household income level exceeds 185% of the federal poverty level but does not exceed 400%.
Scholarship to be used for tuition/fees for private school. The average amount of scholarship is $7,400.
Family Empowerment Scholarship for Students with Unique Abilities (FES-UA)
For the 2023-2024 school year, an eligible student must be 3 or 4 years old or eligible to enroll in kindergarten through 12th grade in a public school in Florida and have an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or has a diagnosis of a disability from a licensed physician or psychologist.
Scholarship can be used for a Personal Education Savings Account (ESA) for their student, which can be used for private school tuition and fees, on-learning learning, tutoring, therapy, and other approved customized learning services and materials.
In order to apply for either of the above scholarships – parents must apply to an eligible non-profit scholarship funding organization that is administering the program. Click the button below for more information
Home Education/Home School
Parents may choose to withdraw their child from public school and educate them at home. Please note similar to enrolling in a private school – the school district/school is no longer required to provide the student a free and appropriate education or any services such as services on their IEP (i.e. therapy)
Parents must maintain a portfolio of records and materials showing student work and make it available to the school district if requested in writing.
Students in home education programs must annually undergo one of five academic evaluation options and submit the results to the district school superintendent.
Parents register their home education program with the school district, providing the name, address, and birth date of each student participating.