Parents and students want options. And, increasingly, Florida school districts are finding ways to offer them. That was the message officials from two large districts brought to state House panel looking at all the state’s forms of school choice.
Marc Mora is chief of staff at the Lee County School district, which has operated an open enrollment program for 20 years. The district is divided into three geographic zones, and assigns families to schools in a lottery. The system is designed to let families choose their schools, and ensure they get an option reasonably close to home. Mora said 82 percent of families get their first choice of school, and 96 percent get one of their top three.
“We know that parents desire a choice of schools, to see a list, to be able to visit during these open-house periods, to meet with the principals, to take a tour, to see what the students and teachers are doing,” he said, adding: “We encourage parents to go out to the schools and check them out, because … every school is unique, and there’s a fit for every student.”
Since it was first created 20 years ago, Lee County’s open enrollment system has helped solve other problems, from helping the district comply with court-ordered desegregation to eliminating the need for endless boundary changes to accommodate constant influxes of new students in fast-growing Southwest Florida.
Open enrollment systems like Lee’s are expanding statewide under a new state law that districts are starting to implement.