Evolving conversations about school choice in Florida

Frank

When people hear the term “school choice,” they usually don’t think about it in a traditional public school setting, said Joy Frank, general counsel for the Florida Association of District School Superintendents. But public school districts offer students a growing array of choice programs, too, from online classes to career academies to International Baccalaureate programs.

“We have embraced choice,” Frank told members of the Florida House Choice & Innovation Subcommittee during its first meeting this week.

Frank’s comments are another sign of evolving perceptions regarding parental school choice. She and others who are grounded in the traditional public school camp may not embrace publicly funded private options such as vouchers and tax credit scholarships. But it wasn’t long ago that even public options such as IB and magnet schools were considered controversial. Implicit in her remarks is an acknowledgement that giving parents more choice for their children is a worthy goal.

Frank went on to tout public school choice programs across the state, including Polk County’s Central Florida Aerospace Academy, which has a high school at the Lakeland Regional Airport. She also lauded the phenomenal growth of school choice in Miami-Dade County, which opened its first magnet school in 1973 and now offers some 340 choice programs serving 43,000 students. (Coincidentally or not, the Miami-Dade school district also has among the highest rates of students enrolled in charter schools and private schools via tax credit scholarships.)

Traditional school leaders in Florida are increasingly making similar statements.

Nikolai Vitti, the new superintendent in Duval County, advised his school board this week that it better get into the school choice game. The Florida Times Union reported that Vitti told board members he’s a “competitor’’ and believes it’s time for the district to create more of its own specialties like dual-language and single-gender programs so it can “dominate the market.’’

That way, he said, “when a charter school tries to set up shop they will find themselves unable to compete with us because we are that dynamic and innovative.’’

As we’ve noted before, Duval, relative to other Florida school districts, has been especially resistant to expanding school choice. The day after Vitti’s comments, the school board approved 12 new charter school applications.

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