The Personal Learning Scholarship Account (PLSA)

The Personal Learning Scholarship Account (PLSA):

Florida’s New Education Funding Program for Children with Special Needs

Special Needs financial planning is a critical component of successfully caring for, and enhancing the opportunities of, a child with special needs. Could an extra $10,000 per year help your child get the education and services he or she needs to succeed? Probably so – so good news follows!

In 2014, Tallahassee established a new and exciting program to help support special needs children with certain developmental disabilities in pursuing their education. The Personal Learning Scholarship Account (PLSA) was launched during the 2014-2015 school year, and has been expanded for the 2015-2016 school year. To give you a feel for the value of this new program to families, the average scholarship for the 2014-2015 school year was $10,000!

Eligibility: To be eligible, students cannot participate in any other Florida School Choice funding program, such as the McKay Scholarship (hereinafter referred to as “McKay”) or Florida Tax Credit Scholarships. Generally, this program is open to special needs children residing in the State of Florida who are diagnosed with one of the following specific developmental disabilities: Autism Spectrum Disorder including Asperger’s syndrome, Intellectual Disability, Down Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, Prader-Willie syndrome, Williams syndrome, muscular dystrophy and “at-risk” children between the ages of 3 and 5. If your loved one has received one of these diagnoses and is between the ages of 3 and completion of 12th grade, this program may be worth investigating further. 

Many families have fallen through a major loophole in the McKay Scholarship program.[1] If a child has not attended public school and does not have an Individual Education Plan (IEP), or if a family removes their child from public school before applying for McKay, those children cannot qualify for and benefit from McKay. A child does not need an Individual Education Plan (IEP) to apply for the PLSA. Instead, a student’s eligibility is established once a physician or psychologist provides a diagnosis of one of the developmental disabilities listed above. If a special needs child without an IEP applies to the PLSA program, then the child’s local public school district will conduct an assessment and issue an IEP to determine the level of PLSA funding the child is entitled to. 

Children may not attend a public school while participating in the PLSA program. 

Benefits: For those who are familiar with the McKay Scholarship program, which has been around for several years now, the PLSA is significantly more flexible. Like McKay, the PLSA may be used to pay for private school.[2] But the similarities end there. For example, some families decide that traditional educational settings don’t work for, or are not appropriate for, their children. To that end, the PLSA may be used for home-schooling as well as private tutoring. 

Instead of simply offering a glimpse into the wonderful opportunities the PLSA offers our children, I decided to replicate the list of services and supports that are covered by this program right out of the Florida Statutes (Title XLVII, Chapter 1002.385(5), Florida Statutes (2014)):

(5) AUTHORIZED USES OF PROGRAM FUNDS.—Program funds may be spent for the following purposes:

(a) Instructional materials, including digital devices, digital periphery devices, and assistive technology devices that allow a student to access instruction or instructional content.

(b) Curriculum as defined in paragraph (2)(b).

(c) Specialized services by approved providers that are selected by the parent. These specialized services may include, but are not limited to:

1. Applied behavior analysis services as provided in ss. 627.6686 and 641.31098.

2. Services provided by speech-language pathologists as defined in s. 468.1125.

3. Occupational therapy services as defined in s. 468.203.

4. Services provided by physical therapists as defined in s. 486.021.

5. Services provided by listening and spoken language specialists and an appropriate acoustical environment for a child who is deaf or hard of hearing and who has received an implant or assistive hearing device.

(d) Enrollment in, or tuition or fees associated with enrollment in, an eligible private school, an eligible postsecondary educational institution, a private tutoring program authorized under s. 1002.43, a virtual program offered by a department-approved private online provider that meets the provider qualifications specified in s. 1002.45(2)(a), the Florida Virtual School as a private paying student, or an approved online course offered pursuant to s. 1003.499 or s. 1004.0961.

(e) Fees for nationally standardized, norm-referenced achievement tests, Advanced Placement Examinations, industry certification examinations, assessments related to postsecondary education, or other assessments.

(f) Contributions to the Stanley G. Tate Florida Prepaid College Program pursuant to s. 1009.98, for the benefit of the eligible student.

(g) Contracted services provided by a public school or school district, including classes. A student who receives services under a contract under this paragraph is not considered enrolled in a public school for eligibility purposes as specified in subsection (4).

Finally, if a child doesn’t use his or her full scholarship amount in a given year, the balance will carry forward. 

Clearly this new program is intended to put families in the driver’s seat to design, implement and support their child’s education, and to enhance the success of the families’ special needs financial planning. If you are interested in learning more about the PLSA, or to apply for the 2015-2016 school year, visit one of the State-approved non-profit scholarship-funding organizations authorized to establish the accounts for families. Here is a link to one of them, Step Up for Students: