When most people think of school choice, they imagine vouchers, education savings accounts, or charter schools – in short, private school choice options. For families in Florida, this makes sense; the state is in fact a leading state in private school choice, with education savings accounts, tuition tax credits, and vouchers available for their students. School choice, however, is not limited just to private schools – school choice is about giving students the opportunity to attend the school that best fits their needs. Sometimes, that best school might just be another public school.
Public school choice is a very popular program, with all but 4 states having some version on the books. The program, called “open enrollment”, gives parents the option to apply for their children to attend a public school that is different from the one that they are assigned. This may be within their same school district (intradistrict), or it may be in another district within their state (interdistrict). Open enrollment policies are also classified as either mandatory or voluntary – mandatory programs require that all districts adopt this policy, while the decision as to whether or not to implement voluntary programs is left to the discretion of individual school districts.
Florida currently has a voluntary open enrollment program, which means that districts can choose whether or not to participate in open enrollment policies. However, all students should be able to access a high-quality public school, thus a new bill in the Florida State Legislature aims to do that by requiring all school districts to establish a mandatory controlled open enrollment process.
Mandatory interdistrict open enrollment policies would help Florida’s families by empowering all parents with the option to send their child to a flourishing public school, if space allows. Parents no longer have to worry about being zoned into a school district that does not meet their child’s needs, and they no longer have to worry about their children being removed from their current public school if circumstances cause them to change addresses. Hispanic parents in particular support private school choice measures, at rates higher than the national average. Public school choice is no different – it allows parents freedom in their educational options, instead of relegating them to a specific school based on their zip code.
The provisions of Florida HB 669 (Senate equivalent is SB 886) would do just that. The bills would require school districts to establish open enrollment, allowing Florida children to attend the school of their choice (providing there is space) all the way through high school. The bills also require all district school boards to establish a process by which parents can apply to transfer their child to another classroom if they find the teacher to be failing to teach their child, and they increase the financial transparency of Florida public schools.
These changes will put parents in charge of their child’s future and will allow Florida children access to the many excellent public schools that the state has to offer. Attending an outstanding public school should not be a privilege only of those wealthy enough to live in a nice district – it should be available to all families and all children.
School choice is not about raising one particular education model above all the others. School choice will make public schools better, while simultaneously giving families the freedom to choose a school that will help their child learn and grow. HB 669 passed the House on Feb. 18th, and it is looking likely that the companion bill will pass through the Senate as well. Hispanic parents, along with all Florida parents, know that every child is different, and so should support any measure that empowers their children to move towards a brighter future.