Choosing a school? You’ve got options.
Florida is a national leader in providing parents a diverse array of school choices. So, if you’re a parent in Florida, you have access to more K-12 education options than you might realize. Knowing and navigating these options can help you find a school where your child’s personality, gifts, and academic strengths flourish.
Florida families can choose from several types of schools: traditional public schools, public charter schools, public magnet schools, private schools, online learning, and homeschooling. Plus, you can look into microschooling and mix-and-match learning!
Interested in learning more about Florida’s ESA program? Check out our deep dive blog on the Education Savings Account!
- Traditional Public Schools
- Public Charter Schools
- Public Magnet Schools
- Private Schools
- Online Schools
Florida Traditional Public Schools
Most children in Florida (and in America) attend traditional public schools. Traditional public schools are free, open to all students, operated by school districts, and funded by taxpayers like you. Did you know that Florida spends an average of $10,401 per public school pupil each year? You can search your school’s spending and that of nearby schools at Project Nickel.
Florida has unrestricted open enrollment for public school. What this means is that you can send your child to any public school in Florida, regardless of where you live or where the school is located. Each school must post information about capacity and how to apply on its website, and schools are not allowed to charge tuition. For a real-world example, check out Polk County Public Schools’ process for open enrollment. Generally, parents are responsible for transportation of students participating in open enrollment.
You can take advantage of open enrollment by visiting multiple public schools near you and discovering which is the best fit for your family. Traditional public schools aren’t all the same: They may differ in learning methods and one may just “feel different” than another to you. For instance, one traditional public school we talked to, Pahokee Elementary School, is distinguished by its International Baccalaureate curriculum and global focus.
Find out more about public schools in your state at the Florida Department of Education and learn more about Florida open enrollment in “Public Schools Without Boundaries: A 50-State Ranking.”
Florida Charter Schools
Families can also consider choosing one of Florida’s more than 720 charter schools; these are tuition-free public schools that are allowed extra freedom to innovate with curriculum and learning methods. Each public charter school has a charter that explains the school’s purpose and what specific community need it serves. Indian River Charter High School, for instance, provides unique training and opportunities for students interested in the performing arts. Tallahassee Collegiate Academy, one of Florida’s newest charters, is a STEM high school authorized by Tallahassee Community College.
If there are more families seeking admittance to a charter school than there are seats, a good old-fashioned lottery system is typically used to determine admittance.
Charter school students (and traditional public school students) in grades K-5 who are performing below grade level may be eligible for the state’s New World Scholarship Program, which provides scholarships and resources for students who need additional literacy or math support.
Also, as of 2023, charter students are permitted to play sports for willing private schools.
You can find more information on Florida’s many public charter schools at the Florida Department of Education. You may also wish to check out The Florida Charter School Alliance and the Florida Consortium of Public Charter Schools.
Florida Magnet Schools
Magnet schools are free public schools that allow kids to narrow in on a specific learning track, such as engineering or the performing arts. At a magnet school, all the subjects are taught through the lenses of that specific track. So, these might be a good option if your kid learns best by focusing in on a subject he or she is passionate about. For example, Florida even has magnet schools with firefighting programs and drone pilot programs!
Florida has more than 600 magnet schools or programs across the state. To find out if your district has magnet programs, use the school search option on the Florida Department of Education’s website. Simply select your district and click “Go.” If there are magnet schools or magnet programs in your district, the tool will display them and list their focus. For example, the Miami-Dade County Public Schools District has magnet schools that focus on International Baccalaureate programming, foreign languages, performing arts, STEM, technology, and even criminal justice.
Two of the state’s newest magnet programs are a Montessori magnet in Hillsborough County School District and a health and wellness magnet school in the Pinellas County School District that shares a building with a YMCA.
Florida Private Schools
Families can also choose private schools, nonpublic schools that charge tuition. Florida’s more than 2,500 private schools come in all shapes and forms, from religious schools to schools designed for children with special needs. Florida even has the nation’s first archdiocesan-supported virtual private Catholic school. The average tuition for private schools in the state is $9,977 for elementary schools and $11,189 for high schools.
While tuition may feel like a barrier, Florida has recently expanded its state-run programs for families who wish to choose private education. As of July 2023, Florida’s existing Family Empowerment Scholarship Educational Opportunity Voucher Program and Florida Tax Credit Program have been converted into education savings account programs open to every child in the state who wishes to enroll in a non-public school option. Participating families receive their education funds (about $8,000) in an online account. They can use those funds for private school tuition, as well as other expenses like online learning costs, part-time tutoring, or an approved course at a local public school! Read all about it in our explainer.
Florida also offers specific scholarship programs for struggling readers, victims of bullying, and students with an Individualized Education Plan. In 2023, Florida expanded its Family Empowerment Scholarship for Students with Unique Abilities Program to help eliminate a waitlist for students with special needs.
These programs are popular: More than 370,000 Florida students have applied for one of Florida’s school scholarships for the 2023-2024 school year.
We enjoyed the opportunity to talk to teachers at Morning Star School, a Catholic school specializing in serving students with special needs. “We have kids with so many different gifts,” described Principal Jean Barnes. “They have so many gifts and talents that never were uncovered before because the focus [before they came here] was so much on ‘you can’t read, you can’t read, you can’t read,’ that they weren’t able to develop all of the gifts that God gave them.”
An awesome resource for families wanting to learn more about private schools and scholarship opportunities is My Choices in Ed FL. Learn more at the Florida Association of Academic Nonpublic Schools, Step Up For Students, the Florida Catholic Conference, and Private School Review: Florida.
Florida Online Learning
Whether your child wants to accelerate his or her learning or needs a quieter environment in which to focus, you may be interested in giving virtual school a try. In Florida, districts are required to offer students at least one virtual option. Florida has the largest state virtual school in the nation. Any Florida student can take courses through Florida Virtual School, full time or part time, free of charge.
Additionally, other free online learning options are available to all Florida students. Some of these are technically online charter schools, such as Florida Connections Academy, Coastal Connections Academy, and Florida Cyber Charter Academy. Others are statewide but managed by traditional districts, such as the Digital Academy of Florida. Keep in mind that there are currently enrollment caps for district-run virtual schools in Florida, so you may want to apply early.
There are also many district-run hybrid and part-time learning opportunities. Many districts arrange a franchise with Florida Virtual School to offer at least some online courses for students, sometimes for free and sometimes for a small fee. You can find a complete list of approved online program and course providers at the Florida Department of Education.
To read more about online learning in Florida, check out the Digital Learning Collaborative’s state profile.
Homeschooling is another school option in Florida and all other states. Homeschooling is the process of parents educating students at home. As both technology and school choices have spread in Florida, homeschooling is an increasingly popular choice with more support than ever. Florida homeschoolers may even be eligible to participate in sports or activities at their local public school – contact your district to learn more.
In Florida, the state requires notice of your intent to homeschool, if you are homeschooling under Florida’s homeschool statute, within 30 days of beginning. It is recommended that you formally withdraw from your public school so that your student is not marked truant.
Florida does not require homeschooling parents to teach specific subjects but does require some level of assessment or testing for those using the homeschool statute. If you choose to switch back to public school during the school year, or switch the county you are homeschooling in, you must file a notice of termination of your homeschool with the state. If you start homeschooling in a new county, you should submit a new notice of intent there.
Florida offers state funding assistance to parents who homeschool. As of 2023, any homeschooler in the state can apply for Florida’s education savings account program. Participating families receive their child’s education funds (about $8,000) in an online account and can use those funds for homeschool expenses, online learning, or even an approved class at a local public school. Homeschoolers who participate agree to meet certain requirements, such as submitting a student learning plan, which other homeschoolers in the state do not need to meet. The education savings account program has spots for up to 20,000 homeschool students to participate in 2023-2024.
Florida Microschools and Mix-and-Match Learning
Increasingly, Florida families are mixing and matching school options to come up with new ways to personalize education. Microschools are one of these ways. A microschool refers to students gathering together in a small group – with adult supervision – to learn, explore, and socialize. Microschools can take a variety of shapes and legal forms, from homeschoolers coming together at an enrichment center to a private school committed to small classrooms. What microschools share in common is a commitment to small-group learning, close-knit relationships, and emphasizing children as individual learners.
Florida is one of the most vibrant states in the country for microschooling options. Here are just a few real examples of microschools and innovative learning resources in the Sunshine State:
As of 2023, two of Florida’s state scholarship programs are open to every student who wishes to enroll in a nonpublic school option, like private school or homeschool. Participating families will be able to receive flexible funds for learning expenses like part-time tutoring, part-time enrollment in a college as part of a dual-enrollment program, or online learning costs.
Microschool Florida offers an awesome directory of learning pods and microschools around the state.
KaiPod Learning offers learning pods for homeschoolers and students enrolled in accredited virtual schools. One of KaiPod Learning’s partners in Florida, for example, is Steps Learning Center, which focuses on learning and self-advocacy for children with special learning needs.
Surf Skate Science is a non-profit South Florida homeschool co-op and education program.
Tapestry Academy in Boca Raton is an in-home microschool that describes itself as “homeschool meets day school.”
Kind Academy in Coral Springs offers hybrid, part-time and full-time learning options for a small number of students, focusing on nature, art, and sensory learning.
FLEX Learning Academy is a hybrid homeschool program where you may find students out on field trips, engaging in Socratic discussion, learning through projects, or even doing yoga with goats.
Colossal Academy in South Florida is a progressive microschool centered on individualized learning, learning around the community, and engaging in real-world skills like cooking, farming, and video creation.
Compass Outreach and Education Center in Fort Lauderdale offers a variety of personalized learning choices, including homeschool support, tutoring services, virtual learning, and a full K-7 private microschool.
The Urban Cottage Educational Collaborative offers individualized, small-group sessions for homeschoolers, as well as tutoring for students enrolled in traditional school environments.
Lighthouse Learning Microschool and Homeschool Hybrid offers both part-time and full-time options focused on personalized learning, community service, and engagement with the great outdoors.
CREATE Conservatory in Mount Dora is a non-profit K-7 private microschool where “STEM meets the Arts.”
Spring Valley School is a student-led, Sudbury-style private school in Palm Harbor.
Broward County officials have issued guidance about learning pods, saying, “Programs that provide care and supervision to elementary school aged children must be licensed as child care unless they are registered as a private school with the Florida Department of Education or qualify for an exemption with our office.”
Remember, microschooling is more a mentality than a specific legal distinction in most cases. Often, a family participates in a microschool while legally homeschooling, or being enrolled in a private or online school.
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