By Lisa A. Davis, PR and Social Media Manager, Step Up for Students
One of the greatest gifts parents can give their children is a solid education foundation leading them toward a successful life. But the learning environment that works best for one child, isn’t necessarily the best for another.
The truth is, education is not a one-size-fits-all journey. This is reflected in today’s often changing education landscape where charter schools, magnet schools, virtual learning, homeschooling and career and professional academies have become common options, with many moving into the mainstream.
These choices have empowered parents to find the best education environment for their children. Parents in Florida are lucky in that they live in a state that is a leader in school choice, providing among the most learning options in the nation.
For instance, of Florida’s 3.7 million pre-K through 12th-grade students during the 2016-17 school year, 46% attended a school of their choice, according to the Florida Department of Education. This means that nearly 1.7 million students represent those who are enrolled in options outside the traditional public schools.
Some of those choices are found in the state’s public-school districts, and include 299,999 students in public choice and magnet programs. More than half a million more Florida schoolchildren are in open enrollment programs in 52 school districts, or in charter schools, which are tuition-free and independently operated under contracts with school districts. Another 237,886 students attend private schools paid for by their parents. During the 2016-17 school year, an additional 134,904 students attended private school either through the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program for lower-income students or the McKay Scholarship for children with special needs. Another popular choice is home education in which nearly 87,500 students opted for during that timeframe.
A newer option the Florida Legislature created four years ago is the Gardiner Scholarship, which allows parents to customize their children’s education with certain special needs. With this, parents can use an education savings account to pay for approved curriculum, learning tools and technology, sensory toys, certain therapies, tutoring and more. Another new scholarship, the Hope Scholarship, will go into effect for the 2018-19 school year, and will assist students who are bullied to attend a private school or receive transportation assistance to another public school.
The numbers tell the story that Florida parents are embracing these choices and sending their children to the best learning environments for them. After all, it’s parents who know best.
So, what’s a parent to do when seeking educational options for their children?
Below are some things to consider:
- Does your child do better in small settings?
- Does your child like to learn or play in groups?
- Does your child have special needs?
- Does your child learn better hands-on or does well with instruction?
- Does your child need a more structured environment?
- Does your child require more individualized attention?
- What scholarships or financial assistance are available?
- Do you want a faith-based school?
- What is parent involvement like at the school? Is it welcome? It is required?
- If a high school, what are the graduation rates?
- What is the student-to-teacher ratio?
- What are the school’s annual testing scores?
- Is transportation to a school needed?
- Can you drive your child to school?
- Is there a free bus service to the school?
Visit the Florida Department of Education website at www.fldoe.org/schools/ for school information in general and http://www.fldoe.org/schools/school-choice/ for school choice options in Florida. Check out www.greatschools.org for information about schools in general, and search by ZIP code and also review the user-generated school ratings.
While much information can be found online, it is invaluable to make school visits, too. Many schools offer tours, or you can set up visits by calling individual schools. When you visit, talk to administrators and teachers, look at the classrooms and their contents, paying special attention to learning tools and books. One of the greatest resources of all are other parents. Ask them questions about the school and how their child is performing and what they like about the school and if they have any concerns.
It may seem overwhelming, but it’s important to put your child on a path to success. The right choice for your child is out there.
Lisa Davis is the public relations and social media manager for Step Up For Students, a nonprofit organization providing school choice options to Florida schoolchildren since 2002. Step Up is helps run the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship and Gardiner programs for lower-income children and children with special needs, respectively. Step Up will also be running the state’s two new educational program’s the Hope Scholarship for children who are bullied and the Reading Scholarship for public school students in grades 3-5, who struggle with reading. For more information, please visit www.StepUpForStudents.org.