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Understanding School Choice Options in Florida: A Comprehensive Guide


What is School Choice?

At Surf Skate Science, we believe every child deserves an education that empowers them to discover their gifts, pursue their passions, and understand their importance and potential impact on the world, inspiring them to think about the future and learn from the past. We believe that every child is unique, every child has great potential and that all children learn differently. Some children might succeed at the neighborhood public school, while others might fit in better at a charter, magnet, online, private, or home learning environment. That’s why we believe that school choice is so important!

School choice is the process of allowing every family to choose the K-12 educational options that best fit their children. This includes traditional public schools, public charter schools, public magnet schools, private schools, online academies, and homeschooling. Every child deserves an effective, challenging, and motivating education. And, because each student has their own unique set of talents, interests, and challenges, having a variety of options in education is crucial.

We know that school choice can be a hot topic in politics, with some people wrongly assuming that it takes funding away from public schools. However, school choice actually provides every child with the chance to succeed by finding the learning environment that best suits their needs.




How to Choose the Right School for Your Child

Choosing the right school can be a daunting task, but following these seven steps can help simplify the process:


Step 1: Think Back to Your Own Time in School

Reflect on your own educational experiences. What did you like or dislike? Your insights can guide you in choosing the right environment for your child.


Step 2: Identify Your Goals for Your Child

Consider your child’s strengths, weaknesses, hopes, and dreams. What do you want your child to achieve? What kind of environment will help them thrive?


Step 3: Decide What You Need and Want from a School

Think about the ideal learning environment for your child. Do they need a specific instructional strategy or a smaller school setting? Write down your requirements.


Step 4: Make a List and Research Schools

Research the school choice policies in your state. Make a list of schools in your area using tools like the Schools Near Me tool, read about and discover other schooling options that differ from how you learned as a child, and gather information about each of these options online.


Step 5: Visit Schools

Visit the schools on your shortlist, either virtually or in person. Ask questions, observe the environment, and assess if it’s a good fit for your child. Ask homeschool parents and students about their personal experiences. Explore options that you are curious about for your child.


Step 6: Evaluate Schools

Review your notes and narrow down your list to the top two or three options that best meet your child’s and family’s needs.


Step 7: Choose the School or Learning Environment that Meets Your Needs

Make a decision as a family. Once you’ve chosen the right option for all of you, it’s time to apply to the school, select the learning style or learning community, find options that fit your choice as a family and/or get your child ready for their new learning environment.



Exploring School Choice Options in Florida

Did you know that Florida is a national leader in providing parents a diverse array of school choices? Here’s a detailed look at each option available to Florida families:


Traditional Public Schools

Most children in Florida attend traditional public schools. These schools are free, open to all students, and operated by school districts. Florida has unrestricted open enrollment, meaning you can send your child to any public school in the state, regardless of location. But this takes jumping through a few hoops and following some guidelines along the way. Visit the Florida Department of Education for more information.

Public Charter Schools

Charter schools are tuition-free public schools with more freedom to innovate with some of their curriculum and learning methods. Florida has more than 720 charter schools. Learn more at the Florida Department of Education, the Florida Charter School Alliance, and the Florida Consortium of Public Charter Schools.


Public Magnet Schools

Magnet schools are free public schools with specialized courses or curricula. Florida has over 600 magnet schools or programs focusing on themes like STEM, performing arts, and criminal justice. Check the Florida Department of Education for more information.


Private Schools

Florida has more than 2,500 private schools, offering various educational approaches. Tuition may be a concern, but Florida offers several scholarship programs to help families offset the costs of private education. Florida provides a variety of school choice options, including six scholarship programs. These programs allow parents choice among public and private schools and include.


Online Schools

Florida offers several online learning options. In the past the main option was Florida Virtual School, the largest state virtual school in the nation. However, as school choice expands, more and more options are becoming available. In fact, our friends at Colossal Academy are offering a new online program this year.


Homeschooling

Homeschooling ended up being our family’s final destination and the best choice for our kids. It is a popular option in Florida and provides tons of flexibility. The state provides support through various resources and allows homeschoolers to participate in public school activities including dual-enrollment in colleges and tech school, participation in public school sports and arts programs, and more. And homeschooling does not mainly happen at home. There are homeschool co-ops, pods, hybrid options, programs like ours at Surf Skate Science, etc. Check the Florida Parent Educators Association, the Homeschool Education Foundation, and the Home School Legal Defense Association for more information. A few of the programs we love to include in our journey include Project Flourish, Eye of a Scientist, Saints PE, HEAT Athletics and Saltwater Studies.


Microschools and Mix-and-Match Learning

Microschools are small-group learning environments with personalized education. Each microschool may look different. Some resemble one-room schoolhouses, some are forest schools, some offer hybrid models, … Florida has many microschool options and we are thankful to partner with many of these local microschool to offer our program Surf Skate Science, a unique program combining STEM/STEAM education with physical activities like surfing and skateboarding. To read about some of our microschool partner, click here.



FINDING THE EDUCATION PATH OF YOUR DREAMS IS POSSIBLE THANKS TO SCHOOL CHOICE FUNDING IN FLORIDA


Understanding Florida's Scholarship Programs

Florida offers several scholarship programs to help families afford private education, homeschooling, or online learning. Here’s a look at some key programs:


Step Up For Students

Step Up For Students offers scholarships like the Family Empowerment Scholarship (FES) and the Hope Scholarship. These scholarships provide funds for private school tuition, online learning, and other educational expenses. Visit Step Up For Students for more details.

PEP and FES-UA Scholarships

The PEP and FES-UA scholarships support students with unique abilities, providing funds for various educational needs. Applications for the 2024-2025 school year are now open. Students who are not enrolled in full-time public school can utilize their scholarship by selecting the PEP option, which provides you access to an education savings account (ESA) to help fund your student’s parent/guardian directed learning. Please note that PEP students are allowed to be enrolled in a full-time hybrid option, where they have regular and direct contact with teachers at a private school’s physical location at least two school days per week and their student learning plan addresses the remaining instructional time. If applicable, PEP students must also terminate a home education program with their school district. 


How to Apply for Scholarships

Applying for scholarships involves several steps:

  1. Apply: Head to Step Up for Students and apply. Here is the award amount chart for the 2024/2025 school year.

  2. Submit Your Student Learning Plan: An SLP is simply a personalized learning plan developed by parents/guardians to help identify their student’s learning priorities and how to best spend scholarship dollars.

  • An SLP must be submitted annually for each PEP student. Funding may only be disbursed into a student's account if they have a complete SLP. Step Up For Students funds PEP students on a quarterly schedule. If SLPs are not received prior to the first funding distribution, students will need to wait until the following quarter to receive scholarship funds.

  • Click here to watch a video about SLPs, including step-by-step instructions on how to submit your student’s 2024-25 SLP. Another helpful resource can be found here. Updates were made to this year’s SLP process so please be sure to read the instructions before you begin.

  • The 2024-25 SLP was released on June 20, 2024, and contains new content. If you have submitted a SLP before June 20, 2024, you MUST submit a new one now. Any SLP submitted before this date will not be accepted for the 2024-25 school year.

  1. Notification of Award: You will first receive a notification that you have been awarded a scholarship.

  2. Funding Allocated: Scholarship funding is deposited into the student scholarship account four times a year for the Private School and PEP options, and at least twice a year for the Transportation option. After funds have arrived, families will be notified by email. Scholarship funds for Private School and PEP students will be deposited into the student’s scholarship account on or around the following dates:

  • Quarter 1: August 15 – September 15

  • Quarter 2: November 15 – December 1

  • Quarter 3: January 15 – February 1

  • Quarter 4: April 15 – May 1

  1. Direct Billing: Payments can be done through your Education Market Assistant (EMA) with the marketplace or provider direct billing. However, you must have enough funds in your account at the time of purchase.

  2. Reimbursement Process: If funding is not available or a provider or items is not listed on the STep Up system, you can pay out of pocket and submit for reimbursement. Log in to your EMA account, select your payment method, and submit the necessary documents according to the PEP Parent Handbook.


For more detailed instructions on submitting a reimbursement, visit Step Up For Students' Reimbursement Guide.


Florida is currently experiencing an incredible educational renaissance, particularly in South Florida, where families have access to an amazing array of hybrid schools, microschools, and a la carte learning options. We are truly blessed to be in a state that offers such diverse and innovative choices, allowing each child to find the perfect learning environment tailored to their unique needs. We at Surf Skate Science are grateful to be part of this new movement, contributing to a future where every student can thrive. By understanding these options and utilizing the available resources, you can make informed decisions to support your child's education and future success.


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