Though we know little about the parents who long have chosen their school through where they decide to live (or to pretend to live), Florida keeps count of those who no longer want their neighborhood school. And here’s some data to chew on: In a state known for its breadth of learning options, that number last school year reached 1.2 million.
In other words, using a conservative approach with new 2011-12 enrollment records, 43 of every 100 students in Florida public education opted for something other than their zoned school.
This number is produced largely from state Department of Education surveys required of the 67 school districts and reflects, not surprisingly, surging growth for choice options. Though total public school enrollment grew by only 1 percent last year, reaching 2.7 million, charters grew by almost 16 percent, online by 21 percent, private scholarships for poor children by 17 percent. (See an enrollment compilation of 2011-12 options here.)
Granted, Florida is not like most other states in this regard. A combination of educational, budgetary and political factors, including the gubernatorial tenure of Jeb Bush, has put the Sunshine State on an accelerated path of parental empowerment. That said, it is a diverse, highly populous state with national political significance, and this kind of transformation is central to the new definition of public education.
The national education debate is still absorbed by adults who grew up with a pupil assignment plan built almost entirely on geography. Many of them went to the same schools as their parents and even their grandparents, and it’s natural they would define public education that way. That may help explain why parent activists or groups such as the PTA continue to oblige the teacher unions that pressure them to resist laws giving parents more options. The union message – that traditional public schools are endangered – plays to the parents’ natural fears.
That’s why these numbers are worthy of pause.