A new law allows parents to choose any school in the state for their children, if it’s not already at capacity.
Sarasota County Schools received more than 150 applications from outside of the county this year for students interested in attending area schools. This interest was in response to a new Florida law allowing students to attend any school in the state, regardless of where they live, on a space-available basis.
Of the 156 applicants, 17 were ultimately placed at the elementary level, 37 were placed in middle schools and seven were placed in high schools. The remainder were wait-listed.
This number doesn’t include the more than 1,000 students within Sarasota County who applied to attend a different school, totaling 1,220 applications.
Sarasota Supervisor of School Choice Katrina Ward said each year, the county generally receives between 600 and 900 applications.
Beginning with the 2017-2018 school year, new state legislation mandated that each district adopt a controlled open enrollment plan that allows parents to send their student to any school not at capacity. The plan must include procedures for a random lottery if there are more applicants than seats, with preference given to certain students.
The open enrollment regulation is in addition to other school choice options offered by districts, such as magnet schools, alternative schools, special programs, advanced placement and dual enrollment.
The influx of applications from counties such as Charlotte, Manatee and Hillsborough didn’t pose problems for her staff, Ward said.
“We are a very child-centered, family-centered district. I think we just do a lot of things correct, so when statutes come into place… we’re doing it.”
Some parents are grateful for the new law, Ward said, because they commute themselves. If a parent lives in Manatee County but works in Sarasota, being able to put his or her student in a nearby school is appealing.
As parents become more familiar with the new opportunities available, and as Sarasota schools continue to perform well — most recently earning the district another A rating for the year — Ward expects to see more applications.
“I think that our schools are some of the finest schools in the state,” Ward said, “so I think parents are really, really encouraged by the education designs we have at all of our schools.”
With the new law, preference is given to students within the district. Additionally, preference is given to children coming from outside the district with active-duty military parents whose move was a result of military orders, children who moved after being placed in foster care or children who moved because of a court-ordered change of custody.
In terms of funding, counties that take in students will simply report the student to the state to receive funding pursuant to the Florida Education Finance Program, as with any new students.
Open enrollment for the 2017-2018 school year was open for less than a month in February and March, and is now closed. The application period should reopen in early 2018 for the next school year. At that time, to find out more about the application process and if the school you’re interested in is open, visit the county’s school choice page online.