School Choice in Florida

School choice in Florida allows parents to match the strengths of a school with the needs of their child in order to find the best fit possible. Parental choice represents the ultimate in school accountability, allowing parents to make decisions based upon the individual needs of the child. Florida has a strong public charter school law, leads the nation in online education op­tions and created the largest scholarship tax credit program and the largest school voucher program (The McKay Scholarship Program for Children with Disabilities) of their types in the nation.

In 1999, Florida schools were at the bottom of the nation, and today student achievement in Florida puts them in the top 10 among states. Along with transparent accountability and high academic expectations, empowering parents with school choice helped reverse a generation of decline in Florida education.

Tax Credit Scholarships for Low-Income Students:

The Florida Tax Credit Scholarship allows corporations to reduce their tax bill by contributing to K-12 scholarships for students in low-income families. During the 2012-13 school year, 51,075 students participated in the program. They were awarded $206.9 million in scholarships to attend 1,338 participating Florida private schools.

McKay Scholarships for Students with Disabilities:

The McKay Scholarship for Students with Disabilities provides more choices to Florida’s most vulnerable students. More than 26,000 eligible students with disabilities currently participate in the McKay Scholarship Program.Research conducted by the Manhattan Institute showed that over 92% of participants were satisfied or very satisfied with their McKay Scholarship schools.

Choice through Digital Learning:

Technology allows customization in education. It solves the primary obstacle to student achievement – access to quality educational content tailored to meet the unique needs and interests of the individual student. To meet the needs of all Florida students in the 21st century, students can learn in their own unique style, at their own pace, anytime and anywhere through online courses and virtual schools.

  • In 2010, Florida passed legislation that allows all students (public, private and charter school as well as home education) to take classes through any of Florida’s virtual programs. It also allows qualified individuals to teach online courses with out-of-state certification.
  • Last year, Florida passed legislation that further expanded choice by allowing students to take online courses offered by any district statewide, giving students more flexibility to take online courses at times and locations that are most convenient for them.
  • Florida now also provides students with greater access to virtual courses from more providers and introduces massive open online courses (MOOCs), popular in higher education, into the K-12 system.
  • The Florida Approved Courses and Tests (FACTs) initiative will be implemented in the 2015-16 school year and will provide yet another pathway for students to meet state graduation requirements and take more rigorous coursework by allowing students to take quality courses from universities such as MIT, Stanford, and the University of California-Berkeley.

Charter Schools:

As of September 2013, Florida has 203,240 students enrolled in PreK-12 charter schools. Of those students, 23% were African American, 37% were Hispanic, and 51% were Free or Reduced Price Lunch eligible. Florida also labels charter schools based on performance levels. 136 charter schools earned the designation of “high-performing.” Being able to identify which charter schools are performing at the highest level empowers parents to make more informed decisions regarding where to send their children to school and also gives charter schools that are not performing as well a successful model to research, emulate, or learn from. While all of Florida’s public schools showed considerable development last year, Florida’s public charter schools in particular improved significantly.

  • Florida charter schools posted an 11-point gain on 4th grade reading between 2011 and 2013, and an overall 5 point 8th grade reading gain.
  • Students in Florida’s charter schools outperformed their peers in traditional schools. (NAEP 2013)
    • 45% of students in charter schools scored proficient or better in 4th grade reading compared to 31% in traditional schools.
    • 39% of students in charter schools scored proficient or better in 8th grade reading compared to 26% in traditional schools.

Voluntary Prekindergarten Education Program (VPK):

Through Florida’s VPK Program, scholarships are available to every 4 year old in the state to receive free prekindergarten education. VPK gives each child an opportunity to perform better in school and throughout life, with quality programs that include age-appropriate curricula with a strong emphasis on early literacy skills, accountability, manageable class sizes and qualified instructors. Parents can choose from one of several program options available from private and public providers.