Ron Matus: South Florida leads the way on education choice
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school bus stop sign on side of bus
Much of the buzz is about micro-schools.

A few years ago, I might have left Broward County off my list of favorite places in Florida. I might have even used the word “boring.” Thankfully, I finally got a clue when I visited a mind-blowing micro-school on an urban farm in Davie.

Now I know Broward isn’t boring. Broward’s brilliant.

One of the best education stories in America is happening in South Florida – in the shadow of some of the nation’s biggest school districts – and Broward’s at the heart of it.

Much of the buzz is about micro-schools. There are scores of them. And many of them were founded by former public school teachers. While teacher morale is hitting historic lows, these liberated micro-school folks are having a blast, using Florida’s choice programs to actualize their visions of teaching and learning.

But what’s happening in South Florida is more than just schools, as I underscore in a new white paper,A Taste of A La Carte Learning.”

The explosion of options also includes a rising number of eclectic enrichment providers, single-subject operators, and tutors with a twist. Entities like Saltwater Studies offer immersive marine science lessons, using public parks along the Atlantic as classrooms; and The Living School, which customizes field trips for students with special needs.

Nobody has a good handle on how many of these a la carte providers there are. But there are dozens, at least, and they’re already serving thousands of students. The micro-school that opened my eyes, Colossal Academy, has worked with more than a dozen of them alone.

Some of these providers serve homeschoolers, some serve micro-schools, and some serve both. But so many are emerging because Florida is again outpacing the rest of America on education reform, this time by shifting from school choice to education choice.

The accelerant here is the education savings account.

Unlike the old-school school choice scholarship, ESAs can be used for educational expenses, not just private school tuition. They’re giving more and more parents the flexibility to pick and choose from a growing menu of providers rather than being limited to a choice of schools.

A la carte isn’t for everyone. Plenty of parents like the whole package deal of a school, and thanks to Florida’s expansion of school choice, there are more and better schools all the time. But if parents want to craft their customized program for their kids, they can.

Over the past decade, thousands of Florida parents have been doing just that. Florida introduced its ESA for students with unique abilities in 2014, and a significant subset of those parents have been pioneering the use of state funding to mix and match from an array of providers. Now, with HB 1 and Florida’s historic expansion to universal choice, hundreds of thousands of families could be joining them.

The possibilities for personalized learning will become limitless. Parents can choose this tutor or that. They can access Florida Virtual School, the OG of “course choice.” They can sign up for individual classes at individual schools, including public schools. Or they can turn to the newer a la carte providers.

Parents aren’t the only ones who will benefit. Education entrepreneurs can still create schools if they want, and South Florida’s micro-schools offer so many models for inspiration. But if they want to create something more narrowly focused, that possibility is always more viable.

Given the trend lines in Florida education, nobody should be surprised that a la carte learning is getting traction. Or that Broward is the epicenter.

Over the past 10 years, the number of students using choice scholarships quadrupled in Florida, to some 380,000, while the number of homeschoolers skyrocketed to more than 150,000.

On the latter front, Broward is leading the pack. No large district in Florida has seen a bigger increase over the past five years, either in raw numbers or growth rate. Broward had 9,811 homeschoolers in 2022-23, a five-year jump of 137%.

To be sure, there are challenges ahead with a la carte learning and plenty of fair-minded debates. But ultimately, what’s been happening in Florida over the past 25 years is a transition to a more diverse education system that gives parents and teachers more power to control their destinies.

The move from school choice to education choice is just the next step.


Ron Matus is director of research and special projects at Step Up For Students, the nonprofit that helps administer Florida’s education choice scholarship programs, and a former state education reporter at the Tampa Bay Times.

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