• Parents of autistic students wait nervously for Gardiner Scholarship funds

    By: Lauren Seabrook


    VOLUSIA COUNTY, Fla. - Inside The Chase Academy in South Daytona, you’ll find seven students sharing Legos and a diagnosis somewhere on the autism spectrum. In the same room … their panicking parents.


    "We love it here,” said Brandi Ingram, one of the parents. “The thought of him having to go back to public school is scary."


    Ingram’s son Rykan has autism and recently switched to the specialized private school for more one-on-one instruction. She says he finally feels accepted, has friends, and loves to learn. "He had his first sleepover,” she said. “And we were, like, yes!”


    Ingram says she could only move Rykan because he qualified for the state’s Gardiner Scholarship, which pays the school’s $10,000 tuition. But just as the first semester is coming to an end, Ingram and six other parents at Chase Academy, plus hundreds of others, learned their kids will not get the money.


    "These parents have called and they were told yes, you're all set,” said Mimi Lundell, executive director, The Chase Academy.


    Lundell and parents say they could not get any answers from the state on what happened to the funding.


    Channel 9 spoke with Step Up For Students, the organization that oversees the Gardiner Scholarship. It says for the first time ever, the $100 million fund ran out. A spokesperson told Eyewitness News they were heartbroken for the kids already attending school and said 900 students total were left out of the program this year.


    Lundell says she refuses to kick the students out, but she was counting on $70,000 to get through the school year. Half was earmarked for paychecks teachers are expecting by the end of the month.


    Step Up For Students says the kids who did not receive funding from the Gardiner Scholarship this year will be placed as first priority next year. Parents can apply for the McKay scholarship now, to try to receive funding for next semester.

    Lundell says they’ll have to rely on donations to pay teachers, or borrow money and go into debt. You can donate to the students’ tuition here, and specify the donation goes to the “Chase Seven.”

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