Putting Florida’s private school choice participation in perspective

private school choice graph
Florida’s three private-school choice programs serve roughly 112,000 students this year. *2015-16 totals are rounded and preliminary. Numbers could change before the school year ends.

Florida may be home to the largest private-school choice program in the nation, but its level of participation ranks no. 3 in the country, according to new data from the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice.

The no. 1 state (Arizona) should come as no surprise. The no. 2 state (Vermont) might, though it’s home to one of the oldest school choice traditions in the United States.

The Friedman Foundation added up the number of private-school choice students in each state. In Florida, that’s about 30,000 on McKay Scholarships, more than 78,000 on tax credit scholarships, and roughly 4,000 using Gardiner Scholarships during the 2015-16 school year. It then divided the total by the number of “taxpayer-supported” students, including the nearly 2.8 million attending public schools. Florida’s private school choice participation rate came to about 4.1 percent. (Tax credit scholarships are supported with private, tax-credited donations, while the other two programs receive direct state funding).

Those numbers represent just a fraction of Florida’s school choice students, however.

Factor in the 270,000 students attending charter schools, the hundreds of thousands attending district-run public schools of choice, the hundreds of thousands who receive no support from state programs whatsoever (while being taught at home or paying private-school tuition), and the hundreds of thousands who attend preschools with the help of Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten vouchers, and total PreK-12 school choice participation climbs north of 40 percent.

Complete data for the current school year aren’t yet available, though, and the lack of timely data that can be compared across states is one reason the Friedman report looks only at private school choice, which the foundation tracks in its annual flagship publication.

Step Up For Students, which publishes this blog, helps administer the tax credit and Gardiner Scholarship programs in Florida.