Leveling the playing field in public school choice

Some affluent South Florida cities have found a way to carve private niches in the public education system.

The Miami Herald recenty reported some taxpayers may start paying double the state’s normal public-school funding amounts for dedicated spots in highly-sought magnet programs created by the local school district.

And a few cities have found another way to use public school choice to create special perks for their residents. They can create municipal charter schools that give residents priority in admissions.

The Herald reports:

[T]he city of Aventura runs its own K-8 charter school, known as ACES. Aventura is currently in the process of opening a new charter high school — something parents, local politicians and business groups have been advocating for years. They argue that Dr. Michael Krop Senior High School in north Miami-Dade, the public high school serving Aventura residents, is too far away for some families.

Aventura residents will get first dibs at the new high school, which is slated to open in 2019. Although other county residents will be able to apply for empty seats, city manager Eric Soroka said that based on interest from residents, he doesn’t think there will be any.

Instead, some area residents are concerned that the charter high school could segregate the area, pulling affluent Aventura residents out of Krop along with the added resources, like fundraising contributions, that wealthy students tend to bring with them.

“Personally, I think there’s a benefit to having a diverse school population so that especially high school-aged kids can become friends with kids from other ethnicities,” said Aventura resident Ivy Ginsberg. “By saying that all the slots are going to go to Aventura residents only, it’s like giving Aventura residents their own private school.”

Soroka said that’s not the city’s intention. “The only thing we’re providing is another educational choice for our residents at this point,” he said.

The median income of Aventura is 50 percent higher than in surrounding Miami-Dade County. The city’s population is 90 percent white and one-third Hispanic, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, which tabulates race and ethnicity separately.

The surrounding county is less than 75 percent white and nearly two-thirds Hispanic. And its poverty rate among families with children is nearly twice as high as Aventura’s.

This echoes a story in the national headlines. A few predominantly white areas are trying to “secede” from larger, racially integrated school districts.

Florida has large, countywide school districts. The state constitution locks that structure in place. The school district secession that’s triggered a legal battle in Alabama won’t happen here anytime soon. But if affluent communities create new public schools of choice, and then reserve all or most of the spots for their own residents, it could have a similar effect.

However, the city of Lake Wales suggests charter schools could also be part of the solution. The population dynamics there are basically Aventura in reverse. The city’s poverty rate among families with children is nearly twice that of surrounding Polk County. But the network of charter schools residents created more than a decade ago has succeeded — so much so that it attracts residents from other communities.

It may be possible to encourage more communities to do what Lake Wales has done — create new options that serve disadvantaged students, and promote integration by attracting other children, too. It may also be possible to encourage communities like Aventura to ensure children in less-affluent neighboring communities have a place in the new options they create.

Weighted student funding might help.

In Florida, districts receive most of their funding based on the number of students who attend. They receive more funding for some students — like those with special needs — because it costs more to educate them.

It could be possible to give greater weight to other students. For example, if a student qualifies for free or reduced-price lunch, the state could multiply their funding allotment by, say, 1.1. Instead of receiving just shy of $7,300 in core state operating funding for those students, a school would get just over $8,000.

That student’s school would then have more resources to meet their needs. Communities like Lake Wales have more resources to create new and better options. And communities like Aventura would have a greater incentive to create additional space for their more disadvantaged neighbors.

One Response to Leveling the playing field in public school choice

  1. Billy Townsend August 10, 2017 at 2:51 pm #

    If any readers want to look at real detailed look at the challenges and strengths of Lake Wales, here are a couple in-depth pieces. Certainly much more in-depth than anything Travis has ever written.



    Love your take, too, Travis.