By the beginning of the next school year, charter school students in Florida will have more options when deciding where to play.
Gov. Ron DeSantis signed SB 190, which will enable students at charter schools throughout Florida to participate in the athletic programs of willing private schools, regardless of whether a nearby public school has similar offerings.
Such arrangements will be voluntary; private schools do not have to participate.
The measure, sponsored by Republican Vero Beach Sen. Erin Grall, also allows Florida Virtual School students to do the same.
SB 190 and its identical House companion (HB 259) by Vero Beach Republican Rep. Robbie Brackett zipped through their respective committee stops during the 2023 Session. The Senate bill, which Brackett ushered through final passage April 20, cleared both chambers with unanimous support.
The bill, effective July 1, amends a state statute that currently allows only homeschooled students to participate in the extracurricular activities of a private school. If a particular sport or program is not available at a charter school, the only option previously was for students to sign up for a program at the public school they’d otherwise attend under the district area enrollment policy.
Grall said the changes the measure brings are simple but a positive step for student and parental choice.
“From my perspective, the parent makes the decision not to send their child to the public school they’re zoned for and instead chooses to send their child to a charter school. There may be a reason the parent might not want to send their child to play sports at the zoned school — a different level of competition available somewhere else or some other affiliation with the private school,” she told Florida Politics.
“This lines up the homeschooling statute with the charter school student statute … to fix it and make it more clear.”
A private school in Vero Beach called Master’s Academy eschewed the current rule for years, welcoming charter students into its varsity football program. That was until last year, when someone complained to the Sunshine State Athletic Conference, forcing the students off the team in the middle of the season.
The conference also overturned all the wins the Master’s Academy Patriots had notched until that point and demoted the team to a lower bracket ahead of the playoffs. (They won anyway.)
Wayne Smith, the head of school at Master’s Academy, told Florida Politics the team was “heartbroken” to lose the players, some of whom were undersized and would not have likely seen much play time if forced to play at a public school.
“It hurt us, but more than that it hurt these charter school boys who had nowhere else to play,” he said. “Suddenly, they were without a team — kicked off a winning team, nonetheless.”
The legislation joins a related measure (HB 225) the Governor signed May 17 revamping high school sports by changing the makeup of the board that governs the Florida High School Athletic Association, which sets the ground rules for student athletics.
Under the changes, also effective July 1, the board will shrink from 16 to 12 members, eight of whom the Governor will appoint and who upon joining will select the four remaining.
The bill, sponsored by Republican Rep. Fred Hawkins of St. Cloud, also includes provisions for charter school students to play for private schools, and for private and homeschooled students to try out for public school teams — if an agreement has been worked out with the sending school.
Further, the coming law will mandate that opening remarks from each school before a game may make opening remarks — a condition DeSantis said came in response to litigation the Cambridge Christian School is in for saying a prayer over a stadium loudspeaker in 2015.
Anne Geggis of Florida Politics contributed to this report.