2021 was my 37th year lobbying for home school families in Florida; it was also the most unique and maybe the most difficult in some ways too. We were able to hold on to so much of the progress we have gained over the last few decades, but every year is a struggle. I have listed below descriptions of some of the laws that were affected. Having a voice in Tallahassee to both safeguard families’ rights and work to improve education choice should be vitally important to every homeschooling family in Florida. HEF has been that voice for you.
Please spread the word about HEF and consider supporting HEF as we begin to look towards the future.
Help Me Homeschool Academy is offering small, (6-8 students) live, interactive, weekly classes for home school students.
A portion of their tuition will be paid directly to HEF as a donation to our cause.
Check out www.helpmehomeschoolacademy.com Today!
Classes start this August.
The 2021 Legislative Session was both unusual and difficult. Covid made it difficult to connect with Legislators. The Senate would not allow entrance into the Senate Building and testimony had to be given from the Civic Center. The House allowed people into the Capitol only if they had an appointment and could prove it to security at the front door. However, difficult it was there were 2 bills passed that affected home education students.
CS/HB 7045 School Choice was signed into law on May 11, 2021. https://www.myfloridahouse.gov/Sections/Documents/loaddoc.aspx?FileName=_h7045er.docx&DocumentType=Bill&BillNumber=7045&Session=2021 The Department of Education is currently writing Rules to implement this program.
The new law moves the McKay and Gardiner Scholarships for students with unique abilities into the Family Empowerment Scholarship (FES). The Gardiner Scholarship will become part of the FES for the 2021-2022 school year. The McKay Scholarship will be repealed July 1, 2022 and will become part of the FES for the 2022-2023 school year. The Florida Tax Credit Scholarship for students from low-income families will remain a separate program.
Points of interest in HB 7045 for home education families and private schools that serve home education families are as follows.
There are 2 parts to the new FES scholarship program. Part A is for students from low-income families and Part B is for students with unique abilities.
Part A allows a student from a family with an income of 375% of poverty to qualify for a FES. Under Part A a student can ONLY attend an approved private school. An approved private school is one that complies with s.1002.421 F.S. and where the student attends in-person 5 days a week. So, parents who want to continue home educating their child will not be eligible for this scholarship.
The prior public school attendance requirement was removed making children already enrolled in an approved private school eligible for the income-based scholarship.
The eligible income levels for the FTC and FES will be increased on July 1, 2021, up to 375% of the federal poverty line, which allows a child from a family of 4 with an income just below $100,000 to qualify. A child from a family income of up to 185% of poverty will be given priority. The chart below gives poverty guidelines based on the number in the household.
2021 POVERTY GUIDELINES FOR THE 48 CONTIGUOUS STATES AND THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA. chart below was taken from https://aspe.hhs.gov/poverty-guidelinesPersons in Family HouseholdPoverty Guideline
Step Up For Students and AAA Scholarships both offer scholarships. So, if one is full or the deadline has passed, try the other scholarship funding organization.
On July 1, 2021, siblings of a student who already has a scholarship, including a special needs scholarship, will automatically be eligible for an income-based scholarship to attend a private school which meets the requirements of s.1002.421 F.S. without having to prove family income.
The scholarship for an income-based student remains in effect until the student reaches the age of 21, returns to a public school or graduates from high school.
Step Up for Students and AAA currently is providing more information to private schools on the implementation of this new law.
Part B for students with unique abilities.
The Gardiner Scholarship which was working so well for home education students as such will be repealed on July 1, 2021. The McKay Scholarship will be repealed on July 1, 2022.
The new FES combines the disabilities listed in the McKay and Gardiner into one program.
In 2021-2022 all scholarships, including the scholarships for students with unique abilities, will be paid on a quarterly basis. The payments will be made to the Scholarship Funding Organization (SUFS or AAA) prior to the distribution to the student’s account on Sept. 1, November 1, February 1 and April 1.
Prior to this bill the McKay students were required to have an IEP to be eligible for the program, however, the Gardiner students could quality with a diagnosis from a physician or a psychologist. Those students without an IEP for funding purposes were given the same level of funding as those students with an IEP matrix of 253.
Under this new law the McKay or Gardiner Scholarship students who have an IEP will receive more funding. Only those Gardiner Scholarship students who only have a doctor’s diagnosis will receive less funding. Under the new funding formula, the amount of the scholarship is tied to the school district funding for students in the district which have IEPs Levels 251, 252 and 253 matrixes. The funding assigned to those students will be averaged together and divided by the number of students with those matrixes to come up with an average per student amount. Averaging lower levels of funding with the Level 253 will bring down the Level 253 funding. Previously, the Gardiner students without an IEP were funded at a straight 253 matrix level.
Current Gardiner students will be “grandfathered in” so that they retain the 253 matrix level funding so their funding will remain approximately the same. However, new students coming into the FES with unique abilities will have their funding averaged and it will be a lesser amount.
The parent of a student with a disability who does not have an IEP or who may need a re-evaluation may request an IEP meeting from their school district. Under this new law, the district must complete the IEP matrix of services within 30 days and provide the Matrix level to the parent and the DOE within 10 days after the completion of the IEP.
There are several problems with this section of the law. 1. The District receives no funding to perform this service for students who are not enrolled in the district. 2. There is no penalty if the district does not comply. 3. The district will perceive that the funds for the scholarship are coming directly out of the school district funding. 4. It will be difficult, if not impossible, to provide an accurate IEP for students who have not been in a classroom since the student’s teacher is supposed to be a member of the IEP team. 5. Pressure may be put on a parent to enroll the child in the public school for guaranteed services. However, if the parent chooses that option for a school year the parent is considered not to have renewed the scholarship and then would have to reapply for the following school year and would go to the back of the waiting line.
The scholarship for a student with unique abilities remains in effect until the parent does not renew the scholarship, fails to comply with the terms of the scholarship, returns to a public school, graduates from high school or turns 22.
In 2022-2023, the McKay Scholarship students will no longer be required to attend a private school, but will be eligible for an Education Savings Account, just as the Gardiner Scholarship students have been.
The language from the McKay Scholarship was moved into the new FES program which requires the scholarship student to have regular and direct contact with the student’s teacher if the child is enrolled in a private school. “Umbrella Schools” are private schools, but they would not be an option for students to use unless the school becomes approved by complying with s.1002.421 F.S. and the child attends in person 5 days a week.
Students may take classes and pay the tuition and fees at an “umbrella school” if the program is classified as a home education program listed on the Step Up For Students list of approved programs.
New authorized uses of the program funds allow a parent to hire a tutor who is certified by a nationally or internationally recognized research-based training program as approved by the DOE. This would expand the definition of tutors to include those certified by the Barton System and other programs that do not require that the certification include a Florida teaching certificate.
Additionally, the new law allows the scholarship to pay the fees for services of a therapist certified by the Certification Board for Music Therapists or credentialed by the Art Therapy Credentials Board.
Positive Changes for Parents:
Former McKay Students will receive more funding under this new law.
Funding for former Gardiner students is more secure for future years.
2022 Upcoming Session HEF is beginning to meet with legislative staff mid-July to try to work on issues in the new FES program for parents of students previously on the Gardiner Scholarship. If you have specific issues which will negatively affect your Gardiner student, please contact Brenda Dickinson through the HEF website. She wants to make sure that all the issues needing to be changed are addressed during the upcoming Session. Issues that HEF hopes to address in the 2022 Session.
Finding a way to obtain a matrix of services without having to go through the IEP process at a public school.
Restructuring the funding from a quarterly payment to a monthly cycle.
Removing the requirement that students on a special needs scholarship will have to pay for dual enrollment classes out of their FES scholarship.
Helpful Information for Parents of Children with unique abilities. Here is a link to a resource for parents of students with unique abilities. While this is written for students in public schools, some of this information may be helpful to parents who home educate their special needs child. http://project10.info/Documents/Secondary_Transition_Roadmap_Updated.pdf Depending on a child’s disability there may be resources available through the following agencies.
The school district’s high school-level transition services, career and technical education, and collegiate programs.
Florida’s Center for Students with Unique Abilities.
The Florida Centers for Independent Living.
Division of Vocational Rehabilitation.
The Agency for Persons with Disabilities.
The Division of Blind Services.
CS/CS/SB 52 created the Dual Enrollment Scholarship Program This bill restores dual enrollment access to private school students.
Beginning in the 2021 Fall term the scholarship program will reimburse eligible postsecondary institutions for tuition and related instructional materials costs for dual enrollment courses taken by private school or home education students during the fall and spring terms.
Beginning in the 2022 summer term, the scholarship program will reimburse eligible postsecondary institutions for tuition and related instructional material costs for dual enrollment courses taken by public school, private school, or home education students during the summer term.
This scholarship will not only create access for private school students but should change the way colleges and universities serve these students since they will be reimbursed for their tuition.
However, reimbursement for dual enrollment courses is contingent upon an appropriation in the General Appropriations Act each year.
Learning Pods was a concept proposed in HB 1325 and SB 1614. However, HEF asked the sponsors not to push for the passage of these bills. The bill would have placed into statute something similar to co-ops which are already allowed under the Home Education Law. The concern of HEF is that if it is in statute, it can be regulated in the future. Since parents in Florida under the Home Education Law have the freedom to educate their children in any way they choose, this law would have been redundant in the least and possibly restrictive in the future. The sponsors agreed.
Parent’s Bill of Rights was lobbied by other organizations. HB 241 was sponsored by Rep. Grall and CS/CS/CS 582 by Sen. Rodriguez. HB 241 created.s.1014 F.S., a separate section in the education laws which codifies parental rights. It will now be easy to check your rights as a parent in Florida, especially if your child is in a public school. You can read HB 241 at: https://www.myfloridahouse.gov/Sections/Documents/loaddoc.aspx?FileName=_h0241er.docx&DocumentType=Bill&BillNumber=0241&Session=2021