SUNRISE, Fla. – Twenty years ago I came to this country from Haiti seeking a better life. Today, I’m a single mother to six special-needs children, all of whom also have sickle cell disease. There is plenty of love in my family – but I do have my hands full.
I am fortunate I have Florida education choice scholarships to help me meet these challenges.
Three of my children – Jennifer, 11, Carlos, 12, and Jefferson, 15 – receive the Gardiner Scholarship, an education savings account program for students with special needs. They are on the autism spectrum. My daughter Brettany, 13, receives the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship for lower-income students; she has ADHD. It would be wonderful to have the same kind of flexible spending with her scholarship that Gardiner provides for my other children. (I have another child on the autism spectrum who attends a public school because it best meets her needs, and my youngest is not yet eligible for a scholarship.)
So, I’m happy to see a bill in the Florida Senate that would combine Gardiner with the McKay scholarships for special needs students into one program, and would do the same for the tax credit scholarship and the income-based Family Empowerment Scholarship. The new income-based scholarship program would become an education savings account like how Gardiner works. That means giving more families more ways to spend their children’s education dollars. They can choose to spend it on school tuition, technology, learning materials, therapies, and other educational uses – matching them with their children’s needs.
I have used Gardiner’s education savings account to pay for private school tuition, but also to buy laptops for my kids. I would love to have the same kind of spending freedom on the tax credit scholarship for Brettany, so I could get her the things I can get for my other children. These days, with so much uncertainty surrounding schools during the pandemic, families need as many options as possible.
Each of my kids has his or her own unique needs. Some function at a higher level than others. For example, Jefferson does not talk at all. So it’s been a challenge ﬁnding the right learning environment for everyone. I tried several private schools before ﬁnding the one that works best for all, West Park Prep.
All thanks to the scholarships. I cannot imagine life without the scholarships. I would be miserable. You would see me running around like a crazy person, and so exhausted! West Park Prep has grades K-12 that can accommodate all my kids in one place, which means I do not have to race around to different schools for each child every day.
Without the scholarships, I could not afford to send my children to West Park Prep, which has been amazing to us. My kids thrive in the small classrooms and the individual attention they receive. But it’s so much more than a school. It is a genuine community resource. West Park Prep provides bus transportation, hands-on support, and other assistance, such as buying uniforms and books for students. It helps parents navigate the social services system. It really boosts parents who are struggling to support their families.
Again, I would not have access to those resources if it were not for the Gardiner and Florida Tax Credit scholarships. I look forward to the Legislature not only simplifying the programs, but also providing families like mine even more control over their children’s education dollars.