Florida School Choice Roadmap

By: National School Choice Week Team

Last Upated: January 19, 2023

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 six main types of schools: traditional public schools, public charter schools, public magnet schools, private schools, online academies, and homeschooling. Plus, you can look into learning pods!

Curious about special education options? Explore what special education services are available in Florida at the Ultimate Guide to Special Education.

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Traditional public schools do not charge tuition. They are managed by school districts and do not require students to pass tests to enroll.
Public charter schools do not charge tuition. They are usually managed by nonprofit organizations and do not require students to pass tests to enroll.
Public magnet schools do not charge tuition. They are managed by school districts and focus on themes, such as math, science, technology, and the arts.
Private schools charge tuition, but scholarships are often available via state programs or by individual schools. Private schools are privately managed and can be faith-based or secular.

      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 $9,937 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. 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.

      Florida Charter Schools

      Families can also consider choosing one of Florida’s more than 700 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. 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 reading below grade level may be eligible for the state’s New World Reading Program, which mails free books each month to students who need additional literacy support.

      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. 

      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 2,300 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 $9,503 for elementary schools and $10,543 for high schools.

      While tuition may feel like a barrier, Florida has multiple state-run programs that can help families who wish to choose private education. State-run programs extend to students in families with modest incomes, with an Individualized Education Plan, or victims of violence in public schools, in addition to a few other student groups. 

      In 2021, several of these state programs (including the John M. McKay Scholarship and the Gardiner Scholarship) were folded into the Family Empowerment Scholarship to streamline families’ application experience. The new consolidation expanded who is eligible for assistance, and increased the number of scholarships available to Florida families. It also allows families to use Family Empowerment vouchers on educational expenses beyond tuition (like technology and internet).

      About 62% of students in Florida (2.2 million children) are eligible for a tax-credit scholarship or voucher. An awesome resource for families wanting to learn more about private schools and scholarship opportunities is My Choices in Ed FL.

      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.” For another private school story, check out our interview with North Florida School of Special Education, “the happiest place on earth.”

      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 AcademyCoastal 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.

      Florida Homeschooling

      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 statue, 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 has some funding assistance options available to parents who are homeschooling their children. For example, Step Up for Students manages the state’s Family Empowerment Scholarship, which can be used to help with educational expenses for students with special needs.  

      You can read great how-tos about homeschooling at the Florida Parent Educators Association and the Home School Legal Defense Association – Florida. You can also read the story of one Florida mom who started a “microschool” (not quite homeschooling, but similar!).  

      Florida Learning Pods

      Micro-schools, pods, pandemic pods, and learning pods all refer to the same concept: students gathering together in a small group – with adult supervision – to learn, explore, and socialize.  Pods themselves can take a variety of legal forms, but in general they can be separated into two categories: self-directed pod (homeschool, homeschool collaborative, or micro-school) and learning support pod. It’s important to understand what kind of pod you are signing up for and the requirements that go along with it.  Learn more about learning pods.

      Self-Directed Pods:

      If your learning pod or micro-school is choosing its own curriculum and each family is directing their own children’s schooling, it likely qualifies as a homeschool in Florida. Read more about the requirements for homeschooling and get tips from HSLDA.

      If your learning pod contains more than two families and will have parents or other teachers leading unique classes just for your school, it may qualify as a private school. You can read more about what Florida classifies as a private school, how they’re regulated, and how to start one.

      Learning Support Pods:

      If your child is enrolled in an existing online school or local public, charter, or private school, and uses that school’s curriculum under the supervision of an adult in a learning pod, you do not need to register as a homeschool or private school. 

      KaiPod Learning offers learning support pods for students enrolled in accredited virtual schools (and for homeschoolers!), and is expanding its locations in Florida for the 2022-2023 school year. 

      Education Resources for Florida Parents 

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