Over the past five years, the number of Hispanic students in Florida’s public schools has swelled by more than 150,000. Those students appear to be disproportionately moving to charter schools, where the Hispanic enrollment has grown by nearly 50,000, more than doubling since 2010.
Hispanics now represent the single-largest ethnic group in Florida’s charter schools, accounting for 39 percent of their students during the 2014-15 school year.
In Miami-Dade County, the state’s largest school district, 79 percent of charter-school students are Hispanic, compared to roughly 68 percent of all public-school students. The trend holds in Osceola County, the state’s other majority-Hispanic school district, and also in Broward, the second-largest district in the state.
Hispanics in Florida are far from a monolithic group. Julio Fuentes, the president of the of the Hispanic Council for Reform and Educational Options, said the label masks diverse cultures — from predominantly Cuban-American Miami-Dade to heavily Puerto Rican areas in Central Florida.
“Probably the one issue that brings us the closest together is education,” Fuentes said. In multiple surveys, by his group and others, “the common denominator among the Latino community is access to a quality education.” That, he added, may help explain why parents are more likely to seek out different schools — including charters — for their children. (Fuentes also sits on the board of Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog and employs the author of this post).
For Andrea Velez, the decision to enroll her daughter in a charter school began with the desire to find a school that would challenge her academically. Private school was not an option.
She ultimately settled on Choices in Learning in Seminole County. She said she was impressed by its use of the Success for All reading curriculum and “cooperative” approach to learning.
“Ultimately what it really came down to was, where was I going to send my daughter that she could thrive?” Velez said. “I wanted her to have the best opportunity that I could provide her with.”
Now her daughter has moved on to middle school, and Velez has chosen district-run magnet program focused on engineering, where she can pursue her interest in science.