Tuesday, May 28, 2024

What Happens When Charter Schools Are So Successful That Public Schools Could Shut Down?


AP Photo/Mark Lennihan

Perhaps no other state has given parents and students more education choices than Florida. As a result, the state's combination of charter schools, scholarships to private schools, and homeschooling support has threatened the finances and viability of public schools in the state.

There has been a catastrophic decline in public school enrollment in Florida. Part of it is the hangover from the pandemic that has affected school systems nationwide. But in the case of Florida, it's the success of school choice programs that have allowed tens of thousands of parents to enroll their kids in private schools or homeschool them.

“We need some big changes throughout the country,” DeSantis said Thursday evening at the Florida Homeschool Convention in Kissimmee. “Florida has shown a blueprint, and we really can be an engine for that as other states work to adopt a lot of the policies that we’ve done.”

Broward County, Florida's second-largest school system, is considering closing up to 42 schools. And in other districts, school boards are considering consolidating several schools, which is angering parents and students. Broward has lost 20,000 students over the last five years while charter schools in the county grew by 27,000 students. 

Broward County Public Schools claims to have 49,000 classroom seats empty this year, which is almost an identical number to the 49,833 students enrolled in charter schools according to an enrollment overview


These enrollment swings are pressing Broward leaders to combine and condense dozens of schools, efforts that would save the district on major operating costs. So far, some of the ideas are meeting heavy resistance.

One proposal aiming to turn a popular Fort Lauderdale magnet school that focuses on the Montessori teaching method into a neighborhood school brought a crowd nearing 200 people in opposition at a recent town hall. There, dozens of audience members, a sea of blue “VSY’’ shirts representing Virginia Shuman Young elementary, contended the plan would cause an unnecessary “disruption” for a top-rated school.

“You are trying to create school communities that attract families,” Erin Gohl, the PTA president at VSY, said during the May 6 town hall. “Look at what you have before you — replicate, don’t dismantle and destroy this incredible school community.”

Broward Superintendent of Schools Howard Hepburn has shelved the idea of closing 42 campuses; instead, the board has directed him to close eight schools in 2025 or 2026.

“If you want us to offer great education to your children and create the Broward County of tomorrow, you want us to close campuses,” school board member Allen Zeman said during a May 14 meeting. “And you want us to spend that money educating your students.”

Educating them how? Parents in Florida and across the country have a beef with the public school curriculum because it is failing their children in basic education. Standardized test scores are falling dramatically, and absenteeism is skyrocketing. Public schools are in trouble because their product is inferior to that of private and charter schools.

Instead of whining about it, public school administrators should examine the problem of inferior schools and devise solutions.