School choice in Florida

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School choice refers to the educational alternatives available to parents who do not wish to send their children to the local district public schools to which they are assigned. Public school choice options include open enrollment policies, magnet schools and charter schools. Other options include traditional school vouchers, scholarship tax credits, personal tax credits and deductions and Education Savings Accounts (ESAs), which allow parents to receive public funds directly for educational expenses.[1][2]

More students in Florida take online courses than in any other state. Other school choice options open to students in Florida include charter schools, homeschooling, scholarship programs, private schools and two public school open enrollment policies.

Educational choice options

See also: Number of schools by school type in the U.S.

Charter schools

See also: Charter schools in Florida

Charter schools in Florida have existed since 1996. In the 2012-2013 school year, the state had approximately 576 charter schools.[3]

Charter school authorizers are, according to the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA), the organizations "designated to approve, monitor, renew, and, if necessary, close charter schools." As of June 2014, the organizations in the following table were listed by NACSA as charter school authorizers in Florida:[4]

Magnet schools

Magnet schools, sometimes called theme-based schools, are public schools of choice that use a specialized subject area or innovative learning approach to attract students from more diverse backgrounds. In fact, magnet schools began as a way to desegregate public schools through choice rather than force. Magnet schools can reach beyond the barriers of school districts, but they are still managed and funded publicly by local districts, even though they are centered around specialized themes and subjects.[5][6]

In the 2011-2012 school year, there were 2,949 magnet schools in the United States. In that year, Florida had 489 magnet schools that served 530,481 students. Approximately 68 percent of students enrolled in Florida magnet schools were classified as a minority. That percentage of students was predominately African American. This was higher than Florida's average of 57 percent minority enrollment. The state also reported an average student:teacher ratio of 17:1 in magnet schools, which is higher than the state average of 15:1 in traditional public schools. The table below lists this information again and compares it to Florida's neighboring states.[7][8]

Magnet school participation, 2011-2012
State Magnet schools in the state Students in magnet schools Minority enrollment percentage Student:teacher ratio
Florida 489 530,481 68% 17:1
Alabama 32 15,555 64% 15:1
Georgia 21 11,129 77% 15:1
Mississippi 19 4,234 90% 12:1
Source: Public School Review, "Public School Review state magnet school pages," accessed December 12, 2014

Scholarship programs

Florida offers three scholarship programs that allow parents and students to choose among public and private schools.

  • The John M. McKay Scholarship Program offers scholarship aid to students with disabilities. The program gives parents and students the option to select an alternative public school or to apply for a scholarship to attend an "eligible private school." In the 2005-2006 school year, 740 private schools across the state were participating in the program. The average scholarship amount was $6,897, ranging from $4,805 to $20,703.[9]
  • The Opportunity Scholarship Program allows parents and students to chose a "higher-performing" public or eligible private school if their current school is designated as a "failing Florida public school." A school is labeled as "failing" if it has received two failing grades within four consecutive school years. In the 2005-2006 school year, 55 private schools participated in the program.[9] However, a January 2006 Florida Supreme Court ruling eliminated the private school option after concluding that particular option was unconstitutional.[10]
  • The Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program, formerly the Corporate Tax Credit Scholarship Program, was implemented in 2001. Through the program, corporations are eligible to receive a dollar-for-dollar tax credit up to 75 percent of their state income tax liability, and the state may award a maximum of $88 million in credits each year. According to the Department of Education, the program was created to encourage private voluntary contributions from corporate donors to organizations that offer scholarships to low-income families. More than 23,000 students received annual scholarships to attend quality schools under a new bill signed into law June 2009. Under this new bill, donations to the program included contributions from "S-Corporations" (including insurance companies), who would receive dollar-for-dollar tax credits. The non-profits Foundation for Excellence in Education, the James Madison Institute, Foundations for Florida's Future, Step Up for Students (which combined Florida P.R.I.D.E. and Children First Florida), the Carrie Meek Foundation, and Florida Child were instrumental in the bill's passage.[9][11]


An estimated 75,801 students were home-schooled in Florida during the 2012-2013 school year, which represented approximately 2.59 percent of all students in the state.[12]

Florida requires parents or guardians who are homeschooling their children to notify their school district superintendent, to keep a portfolio of records and materials and to have the child take an annual education evaluation. The education evaluation can be administered by a certified teacher or any individual with a valid and active educational license, or the child can take a nationally normed student achievement test or a state student assessment test.[13][14]

Online learning

More students in Florida take online courses than in any other state. It was the first state to legislate that all K-12 students would have virtual options. The state offers district programs as well as fully online schools.[15]

The Florida Virtual School (FLVS) was the largest virtual school in the country during the 2012-2013 school year.[15] It was originally a grant-based project in 1997 and changed into a special independent public school district in 2001. The district is governed by a board of trustees appointed by the governor. The program is specifically geared towards home-schooled students, students attending low performing schools, students attending schools with limited offerings and students interested in graduating early.[9]

Private schools

In the 2011-2012 school year 306,866 students, or 11.5 percent of school age children, were enrolled in 1,705 private schools. Florida ranks 15th highest in the U.S. in private school attendance.[16]

Public schools open enrollment

Florida has two open enrollment policies:[17]

  • The intradistrict/mandatory policy allows students attending state-designated low-performing schools to use an opportunity scholarship to attend a higher-scoring public school, a private school or a parochial school.
  • The interdistrict/voluntary policy allows school districts to offer controlled open enrollment, which gives higher weight to a parent's indicated school preference when assigning schools.

Education ballot measures

See also: School choice on the ballot and List of Florida ballot measures

Ballotpedia has tracked no statewide ballot measures relating to school choice in Florida.

Studies and reports

ABCs of School Choice

The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice publishes a comprehensive guide to private school choice programs across the U.S. In its 2014 edition, the Foundation reviewed Florida's John M. McKay Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Program and Florida's tax credit scholarship program. The John M. McKay Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Program gives vouchers to students with disabilities or 504 plans so that they can attend private school or other public schools. The Foundation found that the John M. McKay Scholarships program has solid funding power and is limited only in that it is offered exclusively to students with disabilities. Florida's tax credit scholarship program gives tax credits to corporations who donate to Scholarship Funding Organizations (SFOs). The Foundation found that the program is limited because it is only offered to students who qualify for free or reduced lunches or to students who are in foster care. The Foundation recommends the program increases student eligibility.[18] The full Friedman Foundation report can be found here.

Recent news

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See also

External links


  1. National Conference of State Legislatures, "School Choice and Charters," accessed June 18, 2014
  2. Friedman Foundation for School Choice, "What is School Choice?" accessed June 18, 2014
  3. National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, "Total Number of Schools: 2012-2013 Florida," accessed June 23, 2014
  4. National Association of Charter School Authorizers, "Florida Charter Authorizers," accessed June 18, 2014
  5. Public School Review, "What is a magnet school?" accessed December 9, 2014
  6. Magnet Schools of America, "What are magnet schools?" accessed December 9, 2014
  7. National Center for Education Statistics, "Selected statistics from the common core of data: School year 2011-2012," accessed December 12, 2014
  8. Public School Review, "Florida magnet schools," accessed December 12, 2014
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 Florida Department of Education, "School Choice Options," accessed June 24, 2009
  10. Florida Supreme Court, "Case No. SC04-2323," January 5,2006
  11. Florida State Senate, "Florida Statute 220.187"
  12. A2Z Home's Cool - Home Education from A to Z, "How Many Homeschoolers in America?" updated February 3, 2014
  13. A2Z Home's Cool - Home Education from A to Z, "Florida Home School Laws," accessed June 19, 2014
  14. 2013 Florida Statutes, "Title XLVIII, Chapter 1002, Section 41," accessed June 19, 2014
  15. 15.0 15.1 Keeping Pace with K-12 Online & Blended Learning, "Data & Information: Florida," accessed June 19, 2014
  16. U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Common Core of Data (CCD), "Private School Universe Survey (PSS)", 2011-12 ; "Public Elementary/Secondary School Universe Survey", 2011-12 v.1a; "State Nonfiscal Public Elementary/Secondary Education Survey", 2011-12 v.1a.," accessed May 12, 2014.
  17. Education Commission of the States, "Open Enrollment: 50-State Report," accessed June 19, 2014
  18. The Friedman Foundation for Education Choice, "The ABCs of School Choice," 2014 Edition