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Legislative Alert: SB 1348


[We are forwarding this alert from the Florida Home Education Foundation, Brenda Dickinson, President, for your information.]


ALERT

IMMEDIATE ACTION NEEDED -- CONTACT YOUR LEGISLATORS NOW!


TO AMEND SB 1348

Family Empowerment Scholarship for Students with Unique Ability (FES-UA)


The future of homeschoolers with unique abilities is at stake!


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If you have a child on the Gardiner / Family Empowerment Scholarship FES-EU…


LEGISLATORS NEED TO HEAR YOUR STORY!


If you do not use this Scholarship…WE STILL NEED YOUR VOICE!


We all know a child this may affect!


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CALL Your Legislators:


Find your Florida House of Representative:

https://www.myfloridahouse.gov/FindYourRepresentative


Members of the Education and Employment Committee:

https://www.myfloridahouse.gov/Sections/Committees/committeesdetail.aspx?CommitteeId=3105


Find your Florida Senator:

https://www.flsenate.gov/Senators/Find

Members of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Education:

https://www.flsenate.gov/Committees/Show/ED/



If you know these leaders in the House of Representative, please reach out to them directly. Ask them to amend the Senate bill to correct these unintended consequences (explained, below):


Representative Chris Sprowl

Representative Paul Renner

Representative Chris Latvala

Representative Randy Fine


SUMMARY OF THE ISSUE:


You may quote this section when speaking to legislators, or copy this section into emails:


The Gardiner Scholarship was created for parents of children with disabilities who choose to customize their children‘s education outside of the public school. Yet, changes in 2021 to the Gardiner Scholarship resulted in penalizing the very children it was intended to help. Home education and private school students will now receive up to $2,000 less funding under the revised program, Florida Empowerment Scholarship for Students with Unique Abilities (FES-UA). This discrepancy occurs because an Individualized Education Program (IEP) is now required for full funding, and most home education and private school students do not have an IEP because they have never been in public school. With an IEP now necessary for the program, most home education and private school students will not receive equal funding, even though they require equal services.


HISTORY AND BACKGROUND:


The 2021 Legislature repealed the Gardiner Scholarship and created a new section of the Family Empowerment Scholarship for Students with Unique Abilities, now referred to as the FES-UA. While it secures funding for the future and allows this very popular scholarship to grow, it created several unintended consequences. It is our hope that those glitches can be fixed this Session.


The changes to the Gardiner Scholarship (now FES-UA) created a situation that is now discriminatory to any home educated and private school students who have never attended a public school. Under the changes, full funding is now only available to students with a complete Individual Educational Plan (IEP), something most home and private school students do not have, because their students have not been in public school.


While some information for the IEP can be gathered for home education and private school students, a full Functional Behavior Assessment cannot be completed without classroom observation. Districts must follow strict federal and state laws which cannot be followed without this observation. Therefore, since home education and private school students are not observed in the public school classroom, they cannot qualify for a higher Matrix of services, and will not receive the same level of funding as other students.


· The new changes do not impact students who were on a Gardiner Scholarship prior to the changes, as these students were “grandfathered” in at the same funding level.


· The new changes to FES-US do not change anything for a child with disabilities in a public school, either.


· The recent changes only affect future home education and private school students without an IEP. This category of student will receive up to $2,000 less funding than other students.


Therefore, the scholarship now discriminates against the very children it was created for, if that child has not been in a public school at some point in their educational journey.


OTHER ISSUES THAT MUST BE CORRECTED:


(1) Funding Now Tied to Public School Funding


Funding for FES-US is now tied to the funding for public school students. This is problematic because the language in the new law averages the funding for all public-school students in the district in matrix levels 251, 252 and 253 and assigns that amount to the FES-UA students without an IEP. Whereas in the past, under the Gardiner Scholarship, the student without an IEP was automatically assigned a 253 matrix of services (without averaging), now, because there are more students in levels 251 and 252 in the public schools, the amount of funding for a student with a 253 matrix level (the home education and private school students) will be less going forward than what the student under the Gardiner Scholarship would have received. This discrepancy amounts to approximately $1,700 to $2,000 less per home education or private school student.


(2) Payments Are Now Made Quarterly


The new FES-UA law changed the payment schedule to a quarterly payment. Therefore, state funds are not available to the Scholarship Funding Organizations (SFO, such as Step Up For Students and AAA Scholarships) until the end of the first quarter, after the names of the scholarship students have been cross-checked with district records to ensure that students are not also enrolled in a public school. This new procedure caused delays this year as districts showed some of the scholarship recipients to have still been enrolled in public school. The state could not release the funds, and unfortunately, parents did not get a quarterly payment until mid-October or later. This is a big problem for parents needing to pay therapists, or purchase curriculum and other supplies at the beginning of the year.


These two issues result in parents needing to come out of pocket for expenses, and a child not being able to fully benefit from this scholarship.


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WHAT YOU CAN DO:


Contact your Florida House Representative and Senator!


Let them know this law is affecting your child, or a child you know!


These issues must be addressed in this Legislative Session; committee meetings are already underway!


Most Representatives do not understand the IEP process and the way the quarterly payments are affecting the ability to obtain therapies and educational materials children need.


The only way to change the law is for parents to contact their Florida House Representative and Senator!


NOW is the time for Action!!!


You must contact your legislators AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. SB 1348 was heard in The Senate Education Committee January 25, but the House has not filed a bill at this time. There are discussions happening behind the scenes and our hope is for the House to find a parallel way at the state level to evaluate the services a child on the FES-UA needs without calling it an IEP.


In-person meetings and calls with legislators are always best. But if you can only get a call with the Legislative Aide and enough parents ask for equity for these very special children, that can be effective as well.


PLEASE START YOUR CALLS TODAY!!!


Thank you for the sake of these precious children who need our help,


Brenda Dickinson

President, H