Every child deserves an education that prepares them for a successful and fulfilling life. Unfortunately, far too many children are assigned to schools that don’t fit their unique needs and learning styles.

Empowering parents with the resources to choose the school that best meets the individual needs of their child is the most local form of school accountability.

Beginning in the 2017-18 school year, every Florida public school student has access to universal public school choice – meaning that families can choose schools outside their school zone or even across district lines as long as the school is not at capacity. Each school district is required to post information on how to choose a different school.

Florida is also home to the largest K-12 tax credit scholarship programs and education scholarship account programs in the nation.

Charter Schools

In 1995, Florida expanded educational opportunities for students by opening its doors to five public charter schools. Fast forward to 2017: more than 283,000 students attend more than 650 public charter schools in 46 school districts (out of 67 total).

Public charter schools are tuition-free public schools open to all students and held to state academic and financial standards. Unlike traditional public schools, however, charter schools are run independently of school districts and, instead, operate under a performance contract with an authorizer (a district, the state, or another approved entity). In exchange for more operational autonomy, charter schools are held accountable for student success.

In 2017, Florida lawmakers passed legislation to bring more high-impact charters to the Sunshine State by recruiting the nation’s most effective charter schools, also known as Schools of Hope, to serve Florida students in persistently low-performing school zones. More than 57,000 students attended persistently low-performing schools in 2016-17.

To learn more about these charter schools, visit the Florida Department of Education’s Schools of Hope webpage.

Florida charter schools are proving to be one of the fastest growing and academically effective sectors in American education. Read ExcelinEd’s Florida Charter School Growth Performance report for more information.

Education Scholarship Accounts

Through an Education Scholarship Account (ESA) program, parents can sign up to have their child’s education funding deposited into an account that they can use to pay for private school tuition, online courses, tutoring, special education services, curriculum, dual enrollment, and many other state-authorized uses. By providing access to a range of educational options, ESAs empower families with the ability to create a customized education plan that maximizes a child’s natural learning abilities.

In Florida, more than 10,000 students with special needs were able to participate in the Gardiner Scholarship program during the 2017-18 school year. The program is expected to serve an additional 2,300 students next year thanks to the legislature’s approved funding increase for the program.

McKay Scholarship Program for Students with Disabilities

The McKay Scholarship Program for Students with Disabilities allows families to choose the best educational setting—public or private—for their children with special needs. More than 30,000 eligible students with special needs participate in the McKay Scholarship Program during the 2017-18 school year.

 

Reading Scholarship Account Program

Earlier this year, Florida leaders created a Reading Scholarship Account Program for students in grade 3-5 who are struggling readers.

The program, which is the first of its kind in the country, allows participating families to be reimbursed up to $500 for expenses related to reading instruction/tutoring in addition to what they receive in public school.

The program is expected to serve more than 19,000 students. Check back for additional details about the program as they become available.

Tax Credit Scholarship Program

Tax Credit Scholarship programs incentives individuals and businesses to donate to nonprofit organizations that provide tuition scholarships to eligible students. When making donations, donors receive a tax credit from the state—often a 100 percent, dollar-for-dollar credit. Through this process, tax-credit scholarship programs use entirely private funds to offer private school scholarships to families.

A recent study from the Urban Institute found that attending a private school with an Florida Tax Credit Scholarship increases a low-income student’s likelihood of enrolling in college by 15 percent. Furthermore, the longer students remain in the program the more likely they were to be enrolled in college.

The program served more than 107,000 students during the 2017-18 school year. The average household income for a family using the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship is $25,362, or 8.2 percent above poverty.

Virtual Education

Florida is a nationally-recognized leader in K-12 virtual education, with the largest state virtual school in the nation – Florida Virtual School. Students can also participate in their school district’s virtual education programs,

Florida’s online education programs provide high quality instruction and curriculum, meeting national and state standards. The programs must also meet the state’s accountability standards for academic achievement. Visit the Florida Department of Education’s Virtual Education Statistics for additional information.