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Florida Students Allowed To Attend Any School

Cyd Hoskinson


Florida Governor Rick Scott signed a monster school-choice bill into law Thursday and it will affect Duval County Public Schools.

His signature on the 160-page bill allows students to go to any school in Florida that has space, beginning 2017-18 school year, as long as they have transportation.

Kids of active military personnel, students moving because they’re in foster care, custody changes, and kids already living in the district get preference.

In an interview earlier this month, Duval County School Board Chair Ashley Smith Juarez said the board will have to determine whether a school has space or it’s full.

“That will charge the board to develop policy around how families will apply for those opportunities and how those opportunities will be implemented,” she said.

Districts will be able to define capacity in their schools this upcoming year, but Board member Becki Couch said at this month’s board meeting, she can foresee that changing.

Duval’s Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said in an April 1 phone interview, he’s confident Duval is prepared to deal with kids transferring in from other districts because the county already promotes a process that allows students to transfer schools within the district.

Vitti said he’s supportive of the school choice bill because he thinks it will keep kids in public schools and give parents choices.

“We know that when a parent is satisfied with a child’s school, they’re more likely to be positive about the education process in general which leads the child to do better in school,” he said.

MORE | Read the entire bill below

Students who attend charter schools would also be allowed to play sports at traditional neighborhood schools. Charter schools are public but privately run.

Vitti said charter school kids could potentially take spots on teams away from students who attend their own neighborhood school if they’re a stronger athlete.

Students will also be able to switch schools and play a sport at that school without having to sit out a season. Although students can’t switch and play a sport while the season in progress.

“Essentially a student can transfer from one school to another school and play two different sports within that same year,” Board member Couch said. “In the past that has not occurred.”

The bill also cracks down on overspending when districts build new schools or are renovating existing buildings. Vitti said the state is planning to do a study on how districts are using their dollars and penalize districts that exceed what the state allows them to spend.

“The concerns that have been raised are that you can’t necessarily look at every construction situation equally within a district and among different districts,” Vitti said.

Couch said there are historical areas in Duval and historical construction may be more expensive.

Board Chair Juarez pointed out some of Duval’s unique building needs in a separate interview.

“There may be nuances to particular construction needs,” she said. “... When we renovated and expanded Lee, there were particular bricks that had to be used for that building.”

She said these situations will require the district to work with legislators for sufficient funding.

Also in the bill, Duval schools will share ‘Just Read, Florida!’ state money with charter schools. The money is used for reading coaches, professional development and materials such as novels in Duval. Vitti said he estimates this will take about $600,000 away from traditional neighborhood schools.

“It’s a substantial amount,” he said. “Any time you’re talking about hundreds of thousands of dollars, you are talking about an impact on  schools in the district.”

But he said he believes the district will be able to overcome that hit from other funding structures.

“I think the question becomes, ‘is it appropriate for those dollars to go to charter schools when they’re not necessarily implementing the district's reading plan?’ ”

At the same time, charters will be more accountable. They will be required to submit more information on their applications, including finances and governing board members.

Charters will be closed for receiving F grades two years in a row.

Editor's note: The start date for when this bill goes into effect was corrected.

Lindsey Kilbride was WJCT's special projects producer until Aug. 28, 2020. She reported, hosted and produced podcasts like Odd Ball, for which she was honored with a statewide award from the Associated Press, as well as What It's Like. She also produced VOIDCAST, hosted by Void magazine's Matt Shaw, and the ADAPT podcast, hosted by WJCT's Brendan Rivers.