Florida’s Scott Signs Bill Expanding School Choice, Enrollment

(Photo: Pexels, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Pexels, Creative Commons)

Beginning in the 2017-2018 academic year, parents in Florida will be allowed to pick any school in the state for their children. County boundaries and traditional attendance lines will no longer be needed.

A wide-ranging education bill, HB 7029, was signed by Republican Governor Rick Scott that will make school choice in the state a whole new ballgame. If a Lake County parent wants to send a child to an Orange County school, that will be acceptable.

Along with such sweeping changes come certain restrictions. The school chosen by the parent must have room for the student, transportation must be provided by parents, and the child must not be under an order of expulsion or suspension.

The governor had no comments after the signing, but advocates of the law say the new policy will give parents more leeway to choose the school that is best for their children, reports Leslie Postal of the Orlando Sentinel.

"This legislation removes district boundary lines as barriers blocking students from attending public schools that best meet their needs," Patricia Levesque, executive director of the Foundation for Florida's Future, said in a statement. "More children now will have a chance to succeed in the classroom."

Former Gov. Jeb Bush, who created the foundation, has worked on additional school choice opportunities for years.

Opponents of the change are concerned that the new law will affect negatively the schools that lose students, will weaken the value of local school taxes, and will make it difficult for districts to plan for potential growth.

"One of the things that really concerns us: Just because there is capacity today doesn't mean there's going to be capacity in two years," said Joie Cadle, a member of the Orange County School Board, at a meeting earlier this week.

The district is most concerned by out-of-district transfers into fast-growing areas of the county where new schools are already in high demand.

The Colorado Department of Education said the state has had an open enrollment plan for over a decade. Almost 10% of the state's public school students currently attend a school that is outside the district in which they live.

The Republican-majority Florida Legislature passed the bill along party lines, for the most part, writes Kristen M. Clark of The Tampa Bay Times. The bill was a composite of approximately a dozen bills that had a variety of implications for Florida's education system.

In addition to the new school choice policy, HB 7029 adds to the state law performance-funding formulas for universities and colleges and allows private schools to become members of the Florida High School Athletic Association or other organizations, depending on the sport.

Additionally, the law gives charter schools serving low-income students or students with disabilities a larger amount of construction funding from the state, according to Brandon Larrabee of the Palm Beach Post.

Spokesperson Nancy Wait said the bill required a tremendous amount of examination. She added that the details involved and the number of staff members needed to understand and implement all the parts of the law were overwhelming.

The Daytona Beach News-Journal's Dustin Wyatt reports that Ruth Melton, director of government relations for the Florida School Boards Association, assured school boards that the association will be working with them to advise and to assist in implementation. She added that having a year to plan will allow boards to return to lawmakers for refinement of the law, if necessary.

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