Enrollment trends in FL private schools

closer look2We reported last month that Florida’s private school enrollment numbers are rising again. And that’s true. But trend lines beneath the surface suggest the modest rebound is tied more to publicly funded options than to private-paying students.

Here’s the thing: McKay scholarships for disabled students and tax credit scholarships for low-income students are making up a fast-growing share of private school enrollment – from 8.5 percent in 2002-03 to 28.4 percent last year. When those students are excluded from enrollment totals, it’s clear privately funded, private school enrollment continues to drop at a steady pace.

What does that mean? It may show private schools are still suffering the effects of a long and  jobless economic recovery, which leaves fewer families able to afford an education option they used to choose. It may reflect that some private-school parents have chosen a different option, charter schools, that barely existed in the first year of our chart and enrolled 203,199 students last year (we have little data, unfortunately, on how many of these students previously attended private school). It may mean the basic economics of private school have changed for many middle-class families, either because tuition has risen too fast or incomes are declining in a more systemic way.

This is an intriguing, and possibly troubling, trend. But we’ll have more on that at another time. For now, here’s a simple spreadsheet with more numbers, all from Florida Department of Education reports. And here’s a few charts with the highlights:

private school chart 1A

private school chart2A

private school chart3A

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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.


Very interesting… Many schools without vouchers would not survive. Schools like the one my son attends would literally close down without School Readiness, VPK, Step Up & McKay vouchers. With this being said, how state & federal money is paid to these schools (Indirectly) with no accountability as it relates to Section 504 & ADA is beyond me. VPK just received $100 million from race to the top thus converting it into a federally funded program. I think it’s time the state & Step Up hold these schools accountable for not making reasonable accommodations as defined by Section 504 & ADA. When churches were made exempt from ADA the argument was the cost to accommodate. Since then, BILLIONS have been paid in scholarships which have covered the cost numerous times over. Times have changed and so should their ADA exemption as it relates to participating in state & federal voucher programs. Change must come!!

Adrian Michaels

Is it possible that private paying students are leaving because parents do not want their children influenced by what they perceive as “public school students”?

Hi Adrian, thanks so much for reading and commenting. I don’t know for sure if that’s an issue, but I have never heard that argument before. Is this something you’ve heard is happening?

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