Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Gardiner Keeping Focus on Disabled

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Gardiner Keeping Focus on Disabled

Article excerpt

CAPITAL COMMENT

As business, university and college leaders gathered at Gov. Rick Scott's "Degrees to Jobs" summit this week in Orlando, outgoing Senate President Andy Gardiner offered a slightly different message on the theme of helping students find jobs that will help boost the economy.

Gardiner, an Orlando Republican who leaves office in November, outlined a significant series of recent initiatives to help Floridians with intellectual and physical disabilities receive an education, go on to college and then find a job.

Gardiner, whose legislative path was shaped by the birth of his 12-year-old son with Down syndrome, has played a large role in most of those initiatives, although he is the

first to credit others, including other senators, House members and Gov. Scott.

Nonetheless, as state leaders debate how to make Florida a leader in education and economic development, Gardiner said the state is already at the forefront of helping disabled Floridians, who he calls individuals with "unique abilities," find educational and employment opportunities.

"If it's done right, which I believe it will, will allow us to be really the model for the country," Gardiner told the summit.

Throughout Gardiner's 16-year career in the House and Senate he looked for ways to improve education, training and employment services for the disabled. Among his initial efforts was the elimination of a "special diploma" system that isolated disabled students from mainstream K-12 classrooms.

He was also involved in the creation and then the expansion of "personal learning scholarship accounts" that provide parents with about $10,000 a year to enhance services and education for their disabled children, including saving money for a college education. Lawmakers named the scholarship program after Gardiner's family earlier this year.

The scholarship program is projected to help some 7,500 students this fall, more than doubling participants in the last three years. …

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