Public schools added more than 16,000 students in grades PreK-12 in the 2016-17 school year. A new analysis by Step Up For Students, using data from the Florida Department of Education, shows the state’s full spectrum of school choice options added 43,000 students that school year.
On the contrary, more than 1.6 million preK-12 students enrolled in school choice programs during the 2015-16 school year. School choice enrollment increased by more than 74,000 – nearly the same amount as the previous two years combined, according to an analysis of Florida Department of Education data.
Although 45 percent of all preK-12 students in Florida choose schools outside their neighborhood zones, the two most widely used forms of choice are offered by public school districts.
Enrollment in choice and magnet programs increased dramatically, taking the top spot from open enrollment. Charter schools grew by 19,000 students and are vying with magnets to become the most popular public-school option.
“Neighborhood schools could soon be a thing of the past,” the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported this weekend.
As our annual “changing landscape” analyses reveal, choice is becoming the norm in Florida’s public education system. More than four in 10 students choose some option other than their assigned public school; in Miami-Dade County, these choosers now constitute a majority of all public-school students.
The Sun-Sentinel reveals districts are playing a crucial role in driving this trend, and that they’re creating magnet programs and other new options in part to compete with charter schools proliferating in their backyards.
School choice options in Florida grew last year at more than twice the rate of total enrollment, surpassing 1.5 million students. That means 43 percent of preK-12 students in the nation’s third-most populous state picked their own form of education.
This trend also shows little signs of slowing. Enrollment in charter schools grew by more than 9 percent, and a scholarship program for low-income children continued to grow at double-digit rates. In the past two years alone, 88,527 Florida students have joined the choice movement.
The numbers come from 2014-15 data compiled by the state Department of Education, and speak to a broader transformation that transcends the traditional debate about public-vs-private. Indeed, two of the three most chosen learning options in Florida are provided by school districts themselves – through open-enrollment plans that let parents choose from clusters of schools, and through choice and magnet schools that cater specifically to children’s academic interests and aptitudes.
To comprehend the pace at which Florida parents are choosing education options for their children, look no further than charter schools. In the past two years, charter enrollment increased by 49,116 while total public school enrollment went up by only 2,096.
Put another way, in 2013-14, one in every 12 students attended a charter school – a form of education that, in Florida, is still just a teenager.
Charter schools are only one part of the annual statistical sheet that breaks down Florida’s educational choice “landscape.” The new 2013-14 version speaks to why National School Choice Week chose to kick off activities this year in the Sunshine State.
The bottom line, though not greatly different than last year, is still jaw-dropping: Last year, 1,479,685 preK-12 students chose something other than their traditional district-assigned school – 42 percent of all students.
That speaks to a new normal in public education.
The choice landscape sheet is built with state Department of Education data parsed by the Office of Independent Education and Parental Choice in partnership with Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog. The state tracks a wide assortment of educational options in the 67 school districts.