By: Ethan Forberg
Florida parents and students now have more control over where they want to attend school. The March 2023 signing of House Bill 1 (HB-1) means more families have access to school vouchers and fewer families will be constrained to traditional school district boundaries.
Specifically, HB-1 eliminated the income requirements for school vouchers, ensuring students in Florida can receive a voucher for the amount of money a public school receives in funding per student, roughly $8,500 per year. This voucher can be used for a variety of educational options, including private school tuition, homeschooling, part-time charter school enrollment, and other education expenses. One of the most popular and fastest-growing options for students and parents participating in school choice is charter schools.
Charter schools are public schools that operate under a performance contract, or a “charter,” which frees them from many regulations created for public schools while still holding them accountable for academic and financial results. In other words, charter schools are publicly funded and independently operated. These schools perform better or equal to traditional public schools in a variety of performance metrics measured by Florida’s Department of Education.
One key metric is college and career acceleration (see Figure 1). This measure represents the percentage of graduates who were eligible to earn college credit or industry certification.
Figure 1. Average College and Career Acceleration Scores by Charter Schools and Public Schools, 2015-2022
Charter schools see more of their graduates ready for college and careers every year. In 2015, public schools scored 53.36 in college and career acceleration, indicating that 53.36% of their graduates were eligible to earn college credit or industry certification according to the Florida Department of Education (Figure 1). In contrast, charter schools scored 50.31 in college and career acceleration, meaning only 50.31% of their graduates met this criterion.
However, by 2017, charter schools surpassed public schools in college and career acceleration. They have improved every year since then, and even through the disruption of COVID-19, charter school performance kept climbing.
More than half of Florida high schools—568 out of 1,034—reported college and career acceleration rates for the 2021-22 school year: 91 of these reporting schools were charter schools and 477 were public schools. Of the schools that reported, charter schools scored 65.88 (or 65.88%) in college and career acceleration, an increase of over 15% in just eight years.
Meanwhile, public schools scored 65.04 (or 65.04%)—a steady improvement over time, but still lagging behind charter schools. Despite a seemingly inconsequential 1% difference, applying a 1% improvement to a graduating class of just over 180,000 students statewide would equate to an additional 1,800 Florida children that are now prepared for college or a career after high school.
This consistent improvement is a testament to school choice and competition. As schools have to compete for the attendance of their students, they are forced to make improvements to their education programs. With this in mind, we’ve seen year over year gains in student performance for eight years straight, and continue to see learning gains into the future as school choice expands.
A common argument against traditional school choice programs is that more privileged students enjoy the benefits of school choice because they have more travel options while their lower-income and minority peers get left behind. HB-1 attempts to address several of these inequalities. For one, HB-1 offers a tiered “priority” system for low-income students to receive vouchers. Students whose household incomes are less than 185% of the federal poverty level, or roughly $51,000 annually for a family of four, get priority over higher income families for vouchers. HB-1 also offers a $750 transportation scholarship to all students eligible for income-based FTC or FES-EO scholarships, which give priority to those same students within 185% of the federal poverty level.
Although work still needs to be done to ensure every Floridian child has an equal opportunity at a good education, regardless of their family’s income, economically disadvantaged students should expect new benefits that come with school choice in the coming years, including faster college and career acceleration.
Ethan Forberg is a Junior at Florida State University majoring in Management Information Systems. He is currently the Manager of the Data Analytics Group (DAG) at the DeVoe L. Moore Center. In his role as DAG manager, Ethan works with his team to acquire, clean, and update data available through the transparency website FloridaOpenGov.org, as well as conducting quantitative research into Florida’s K-12 Education System.