Students with unique abilities often have the same goals and aspirations as any other student—to get a job and become more independent.
Yet many find their educational path end with high school, while their peers graduate and move on to college or career school.
This far too common reality will soon change. Last month, Governor Rick Scott signed into law new legislation that establishes a complete cradle-to-career pathway for Floridians with unique abilities.
Known as Senate Bill (SB) 672, Educational Options, and House Bill (HB) 7003, Individuals with Disabilities, the two pieces of legislation pave the way for Florida to become a model state for connecting residents with disabilities to quality educational and employment opportunities.
“I am grateful to Governor Scott for signing these good bills in to law today,” said Florida Senate President Andy Gardiner in a press release. “The complete cradle to career pathway to economic independence will make a significant impact on the lives of individuals with unique abilities and their families for generations to come.”
The two bills enact three important programs:
- The Personal Learning Scholarship Account (PLSA) Program, now known as the Gardiner Scholarship, provides financial assistance to eligible K-12 students for a variety of educational needs. This preexisting program has been permanently expanded to a broader pool of students, including those with autism and muscular dystrophy.
- The Florida Postsecondary Comprehensive Transition Program establishes a process for postsecondary institutions in Florida to create a Florida Postsecondary Comprehensive Transition Program (FPCTP). FPCTPs seek to improve the number of students with intellectual and developmental disabilities receiving a higher education to increase independence and improve employment outcomes. The law funds and establishes a clearinghouse, to be located at the University of Central Florida, to oversee the development of postsecondary programs and set requirements for admission as well as the distribution of FPCTP scholarships. The center will also be a resource for families to gather information on FPCTPs across the state.
- The new Florida Unique Abilities Partner Program will recognize businesses that employ individuals with disabilities. The bill also establishes a financial literacy program to help individuals secure financial and health benefits and locate employment resources.
With this legislation in place, Florida stands to be a model for other states looking to provide similar supports for students with unique abilities.