Charter schools take top spot as Florida’s most popular ed choice option

Charter schools overtook “Choice and Magnet programs” and “Open Enrollment” to become the most popular school of choice for Florida parents in 2017-18. The annual Changing Landscapes document above shows 1.63 million preK-12 students, or 47.1 percent of the 3.46 million students statewide, opted for schools outside their zoned neighborhood school.

Charters took the No. 1 spot thanks in part to an increase of 12,081 students, but also because of a 58,499 student decline in “Choice and Magnet” programs.

Polk County accounted for the decline, and then some, in the “Choice and Magnet” programs category with a decrease of 61,036 students. It is unclear what happened with this enrollment figure in Polk. A spokesman from Polk County Public Schools stated that Magnet School enrollment increased from 9,809 in 206-17 to 10,912 in 2017-18 and did not experience a 60,000 student decline in enrollment as statewide survey data initially suggested. The spokesman was unable to confirm whether the initial results were due to a clerical error or a reclassification of students since the individual who previously reported Polk enrollment figures to the Florida Department of Education has retired.*

In addition to charter school growth, the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship grew by 9,162 students, or 9 percent, and the Gardiner Scholarship grew by 2,202 students, or 27 percent.

Several public-school offerings grew significantly, too. Students in an Advanced International Certificate of Education (AICE) program grew by 8,379 students, or 19 percent. Career and Professional Academies grew by 19,540 students, or 14 percent. Even students using the McKay Scholarship to attend other public schools grew by 812 students, or 19 percent growth over the prior year.

This year’s Changing Landscape saw several major revisions.

The FLDOE reported data through “Survey 2,” which is conducted earlier in the school year. According to a department spokesman, using “Survey 2” instead of the end-of-year “Survey 5” reduces the number of duplicated students in choice options. For example, “Survey 5” might count a student enrolled in both a charter school and an open-enrollment public school if the student transferred schools during the year.

Additionally, thanks to better data collection methods, Step Up For Students (which cohosts this blog and administers the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship and Gardiner Scholarship programs) is now better able to track whether Gardiner Students enroll full time as private school students or homeschool students. This enabled us to remove duplicates from both categories this year.

The comparisons narrated above, along with the key findings below, were done by adjusting the 2016-17 school year using earlier “Survey 2” data. As a result, we removed as many as 174,696 duplicated students for the prior 2016-17 school year. The revised data shows that 1.64 million, or 47.5 percent, of the 3.45 million preK-12 students in Florida attended schools of choice in 2016-17, compared to 47.1 percent in 2017-18.

The Changing Landscapes document is in its ninth year. Data for this report is gathered by the FLDOE and includes statistics provided by local school districts.


• 47.1 percent of preK-12 students in Florida attend a school of choice, a decline from 47.5 percent last year
• Charter schools are now the most popular school choice option in Florida thanks to steady increase in enrollment and a sharp decline in Choice and Magnet School enrollment in Polk County
• Largest growth rates: Gardiner Scholarship (27 percent), Advanced Certificate of Education (19 percent), McKay Scholarship public school (19 percent), Career and Professional Academies (14 percent)
• Largest declines: Choice and Magnets (minus-21 percent), full-time Florida Virtual School (minus-5 percent), private school private pay (minus-5 percent)

*Editor’s Note: Updated to note the Polk County response. A spokesman for the Florida Department of education also speculated the discrepancy could be due to a clerical error or a reclassification of students from one educational option to another within Polk County.


  1. Pingback: News Flash: When Given a Choice, Floridian’s Overwhelmingly Choose District Managed Public School Options | accountabaloney

    • Yep. More deceptive marketing…

      • Patrick R. Gibbons

        Hi Anne, there is nothing deceptive about noting the popularity of public and private school choice options throughout Florida. Thank you for commenting.

        • Hi Patrick, School choice exists already. Between 80-90% of FL families choose public schools. Parents are moving because state leaders are putting a lot more effort into expanding private options than in improving existing public schools. Imagine if the state built a new public high school in every town and marketed it as “tuition-free” and “superior.” Parents would be attracted to those schools, too.

          I commented after reading the exchange on Twitter with the school board member who found the incorrect statistic. Thanks for fixing that.

    • Patrick R. Gibbons

      Thanks for taking note of the Changing Landscapes this year. The last several years we noted that district school choice options retained the top spots. We are excited about all school choice options, no matter who runs them. Thanks for reading!