Florida education leaders aim for strong growth in charters, vouchers, virtual

In the next five years, Florida aims to double the number of students attending charter schools, to 360,000, and more than double the number attending private schools with tax credit scholarships, to 100,000, according to the state Board of Education’s draft strategic plan.

It’s no secret that expanding school choice is central to the board’s vision of education reform. But the draft plan, which the board is scheduled to vote on Tuesday, shows just how sweeping that vision continues to be, even for a state that’s already recognized as a national leader in learning options.

Charter schools: Last year, Florida had 518 schools and 179,940 students enrolled in charter schools. The BOE’s draft goal for 2017-18: 829 schools and 359,880 students.

McKay scholarships: Last year, 24,194 students with disabilities used these vouchers to attend private schools. The draft goal for 2017-18: 31,441.

Tax credit scholarships: Last year, 40,248 low-income students attended private schools with them. The draft goal for 2017-18: 100,620.

Virtual education: Last year, 3.84 percent of Florida students were enrolled in online programs part time and 0.24 percent were enrolled full time. For 2017-18, the BOE is shooting for 5 percent part-time and 1 percent full-time.

The board’s goals include improved academic performance for students in charter and virtual programs. It also seeks to close the gap between the percentage of low-income students enrolled in charters and traditional public schools.

The plan includes aggressive targets for student performance across the board, including increasing the percentage of students reading at grade level from 57 percent last year to 83 percent over five years, and upping the graduation rate over that span from 71 to 92 percent.

(Image from ayushveda.com)

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BY Ron Matus

Ron Matus is director for policy and public affairs at Step Up for Students and a former editor of redefinED. He joined Step Up in February 2012 after 20 years in journalism, including eight years as an education reporter with the Tampa Bay Times (formerly the St. Petersburg Times). Ron can be reached at rmatus@stepupforstudents.org or (727) 451-9830. Follow him on Twitter @RonMatus1 and on facebook at facebook.com/redefinedonline.