Thanks to flexible transfer policies that already exist within Miami-Dade and Broward counties, superintendents in South Florida say they don’t anticipate drastic shifts in enrollment under a new law Gov. Rick Scott approved Thursday.
As part of a wide-ranging “school choice” measure, any child in Florida — starting in 2017-18 — will be able to attend any public school in the state that has space available.
The new policy breaks down barriers that previously prohibited students from crossing county lines to attend school, except where local agreements existed.
Superintendents in Miami-Dade and Broward counties said they expect the new freedom will most likely be taken advantage of by high school athletes or by parents who commute in South Florida and would find it easier to enroll their students in schools closer to work.
“I don’t foresee this being a very problematic experience because of the choice programs we have and the transfer policies we already have,” Miami-Dade Public Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said.
Districts that have not dramatically expanded parental choices — where choice isn’t a reality in their district — may struggle with it.
Alberto Carvalho, Miami-Dade Public Schools superintendent
The Florida Department of Education is “still in the very early phases of planning for implementation” of HB 7029, spokeswoman Meghan Collins said, so it’s too soon to know exactly what guiding rules or policy framework might be needed at the state level.
The open enrollment provisions of the law simply require districts and charter schools to post online the process for parents to participate in enrollment across county lines. They’ll also be required to set up a transfer process so parents can request their children be transferred to a different classroom within the same school, another component of the legislation.
Officials in Miami-Dade and Broward counties said implementation will likely require an expansion of policies that already exist within the two districts, which promote their “school choice” options for parents and children.
Almost 40 percent of all charter school students in Florida are in Miami-Dade and Broward, and together, the counties offer hundreds of magnet programs, many of which are nationally recognized.
“We’ll have an easier time to transition than other districts,” Carvalho said. “Districts that have not dramatically expanded parental choices — where choice isn’t a reality in their district — may struggle with it.”
It’s going to expand what we’re already doing in the district.
Robert Runcie, Broward County Public Schools superintendent
Miami-Dade is the largest school district in Florida and the fourth largest in the nation; Broward is second largest in the state and the sixth largest nationwide. Combined, the districts serve more than 625,000 students, or almost a quarter of all public school students statewide.
“I don’t see any large impact,” Broward County Public Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie said of the new open-enrollment provisions. “We’re not going to do a lot of heavy lifting when it comes to the bill. It’s going to expand what we’re already doing in the district.”
Broward already offers a practice called “reassignment,” where parents can request to move their children out of zoned neighborhood schools, Runcie said. And Miami-Dade offers similar flexibility and approves some transfers every year across district lines with Broward, Carvalho said.
“We expect we’ll see more kids coming from Miami to some of our schools on the southern border,” Runcie said, adding: “I don’t see a lot of people doing it. You’re going to see kids coming across district lines more for athletics.”
HB 7029 included provisions that give student-athletes greater ability to transfer schools mid-year. Starting July 1, they’ll have immediate eligibility to participate when switching schools, but they can’t play a sport if they already played that same sport during the school year at a different school. That prohibition is meant to prevent the “free agency” of high school athletes, which some school officials worry about.
“I do believe it needs to be monitored carefully so it’s not abused,” Carvalho said.
During the legislative session, critics of open enrollment cautioned that the policy could create disparities in school funding if neighboring counties had drastically different tax bases and a flood of kids crossed district lines for school.
The original measure proposed by Rep. Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, called for a fiscal analysis of how education dollars could be transferred among schools and districts. But that mandate wasn’t included in the final version of HB 7029, which was a blend of more than a dozen education-related bills.
Across Miami-Dade and Broward county lines, Carvalho said he doesn’t anticipate the funding to be an issue, because funding-per-student is “pretty identical.” Between Miami-Dade and Monroe County, though, there could be more of a difference because of the higher property values in the Keys, he said.
But “the issue of capacity is a protection,” Carvalho said, because if counties or schools don’t have room for more students, they won’t have to take them.