As Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has pushed school choice initiatives, leading to a spike in charter and private school enrollments, public schools are shutting down.

Across the state, public school enrollment is declining. Duval County Public School District, the sixth-largest school district in Florida and 20th largest in the country, is now considering campus closures due to dramatic dips in their enrollment.

Broward County Public Schools, Florida’s second largest school district, has evaluated plans to close up to 42 campuses over the next few years. The Miami-Dade county has also experienced a substantial decline in enrollment rates. Of the roughly 68,000 privately enrolled students from 2019-2023, more than a third of them came from Duval, Broward and Miami counties, according to data from the Florida Department of Education.

“If your product is better, you’ll be fine. The problem is, they are a relic of the past — a monopolized system where you have one option,” Chris Moya, a Florida lobbyist representing charter schools, told Politico. “And when parents have options, they vote with their feet.”

In March of 2023, DeSantis signed legislation promoting school choice for parents and students. The bill eliminated restrictions based on financial eligibility and got rid of school enrollment caps.

 

In 2023, private school enrollment from pre-kindergarten to 12th grade increased by nearly 29,000 students from 2022, according to findings from the Florida Department of Education. In 2023, 31 Florida school districts had 10% or more of their total pre-kindergarten to 12th grade students enrolled in private schools, according to the same report.

School choice and private school enrollment has been steadily rising over the last decade. Since 2013, over 600 new private schools were established in Florida, and about 120,000 students opted for private education over public, according to the Florida Department of Education.

Florida public schools, including Duval County schools, have faced scrutiny for promoting unpopular social causes like critical race theory and barring graduation ceremonies from being held in churches. In February 2023, Duval County had to cancel a survey that asked students as young as 10 years old about their sexual activity and gender identity.

In 2022, five public school boards were flipped by conservatives in Florida. As a result, Miami-Dade County, Sarasota County, Duval County, Martin County and Clay County then had conservative majorities on their school boards.

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