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Florida Joins National Trend And Mandates Statewide Open Enrollment Policy

January 24, 2017

Here’s what districts need to know about successfully implementing school choice systems

Joining a growing nationwide trend to offer open enrollment in schools, Florida Governor Rick Scott signed House Bill 7029, which will make public school choice available to parents and students throughout the state beginning in the 2017-18 school year. In short, the education bill will allow Florida students to attend any school in the state as long as classroom space is available.

School choice, or open enrollment, gives parents the freedom to make the decision where their child will attend school without being tethered to district boundary lines based on where they live. School choice gives students the opportunity to attend schools that better fit their interests and needs such as specific programs, learning themes, goals, or policies. Others want to enroll their child in a higher-performing school.  Often, school choice is ideal for families that want to send their child to a higher-performing school, but they cannot afford to move to a different school district or private school tuition.

The new bill will affect some 3.138 million Florida PK-12 students, 89% (2,792,234) of whom currently attend one of the state’s 75 public school districts. Eleven percent (345,796) of Florida students attend private schools. Charter schools account for 270,000 of Florida’s total enrollment, almost doubling in the past six years.

Florida joins a growing list of 18 states that have some form of mandatory policies requiring school districts to accept students from other districts and another 29 states with voluntary open enrollment policies. That list is expected to grow with the appointment of new U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, a strong school choice advocate, and as much as $20 billion in federal funding for school choice being proposed by the new Trump administration.

Florida’s bill is applauded by many throughout the state who say parents should have the freedom to choose where they educate their children. Proponents also see open enrollment as a way to spur on competition and accountability among schools and districts, serving as a checks and balances system to push all schools to offer a premium education.

“This is a great day for students across Florida,” said Florida’s Senate Education Appropriations Chairman Don Gaetz, “as Governor Scott signs into law historic legislation to increase school choice options across our K-12 education system by allowing parents to have a greater say regarding which of our neighborhood public schools their child will attend.”

Florida House Speaker Steve Crisafulli added: “By expanding Florida’s school choice options, parents and students will be able to find an education solution that best fits their needs.”

 

What Florida districts need to know about HB7029 requirements

As school districts across Florida prepare to implement the new open enrollment policy soon, there are many requirements to keep in mind – especially for public school districts in which open enrollment systems and processes are a relatively new concept.  Whereas charter schools and magnet schools already operate as public schools of choice.

Here’s a rundown of what districts, school registration officials, parents and students need to know.

  • School districts must determine which of their schools has room and make that information available on their websites
  • If the number of requests for transfer into a specific school exceeds the number of available seats, a lottery system will be used to select students
  • Once enrolled, transfer students are secured a seat until they finish the highest grade offered at that school
  • Students transferring in can’t displace current district students
  • Preference is given to students living in the district, students moving because their parents are active-duty military personnel, or students moving because of foster care placement or court-ordered custody arrangements
  • Students who are suspended or expelled from their current school are ineligible for transfer
  • Parents are responsible for the transportation or associated costs, for their child unless the receiving school district will pay them

 

Running a successful school choice lottery system

For schools new to the process of a lottery, a successful lottery has many different moving – and sometimes complicated – parts. Overlooking one aspect could reduce the possibility of achieving the transparent and fair placement of students.

A multi-faceted online lottery solution applies systematic rules to applicant records, creating an efficient and transparent process, including an audit trail for accountability to ensure fairness of school placement. The provider you select to implement your solution should consult with school officials to defi­ne the rules that your lottery will employ, create and carry out a business process to manage the necessary workflow, and ensure a successful lottery run.  This includes collecting applicant data, reviewing and verifying data, approving applicants for the lottery, processing the lottery, communicating results to families, managing waitlists, and seated lists, and funneling accepted students into an online registration system.

Here’s what Sharon Nagy-Johnson, Director of Instructional Technology at New Jersey’s Springfield Public Schools, says about her district’s use of a streamlined online lottery management system: “Our customized school choice solution will optimize the level of effort and time this process would normally take. Families will no longer have to give up a week of their time to camp out at the administration building. Everything will be streamlined across our 75 schools.”

Additionally, it is imperative to select a provider with the experience, infrastructure, and support in place to manage the complex and nuanced process. Long gone are the risky days of using Excel spreadsheets, pulling names out of a hat, and sifting through thousands of sheets of paper. Those methods are labor-intensive and don’t provide affirmation of a tamper-proof outcome—results that families, school administrators, and regulatory agencies expect to see.

 

Learn more about school choice in Florida in a webinar Thursday, February 2nd. We will be joined by Florida education expert Larry Williams to discuss the new HB7092, how it impacts school districts, and what to do to prepare for the open enrollment and lottery process.

 

To find out more about operating a school choice lottery from inception to completion, download the free report: “Running A Successful Lottery For School Choice.”

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