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Does Broward County have School Choice?

Broward County in Florida is home to one of the largest public school districts in the United States, serving over 270,000 students across nearly 300 schools. With such a large and diverse student population, Broward County offers families several school choice options beyond just neighborhood public schools.

Magnet Programs

Magnet programs are one of the main school choice options available to families in Broward County. Magnet schools and programs offer specialized curriculums that focus on specific themes, career paths, or instructional approaches. There are over 80 magnet programs located throughout Broward County, with themes ranging from aerospace and aviation to hospitality and tourism. Students must apply and be accepted to attend a magnet program, with acceptance based on space availability, lottery, auditions, or other criteria depending on the program.

Some examples of magnet programs in Broward County include:

  • iPrep Academy: Focuses on blended learning with a 1:1 technology program
  • Sheridan Technical High School: Career and technical education programs in fields like health sciences and information technology
  • Nova High School: Offers the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme
  • Walker Elementary School: Arts magnet with programs in dance, music, theater, and visual arts
  • Parkway Middle School: STEM magnet with a curriculum focused on science, technology, engineering, and math

Magnet programs aim to offer specialized academic options that attract a diverse mix of students from across the county. They provide an alternative to neighborhood schools that families can choose to apply for based on their child’s interests and needs.

Charter Schools

Charter schools are another option for Broward families looking to exercise school choice. Charter schools are independently operated public schools that are allowed more flexibility with their curriculum, budget, staffing, and other policies in exchange for greater accountability for academic performance. Broward County has over 90 charter schools serving all grade levels.

Some of the most well-known charter school organizations in Broward County include:

  • Charter Schools USA: Operates 15 charter schools in Broward County with a college prep focus
  • Mater Academy: 10 charter schools emphasizing arts integration and STEAM skills
  • Somerset Academy: Network of over a dozen Broward charter schools with International Baccalaureate programs
  • Ben Gamla Charter School: Hebrew immersion and Jewish cultural education

Charter schools are tuition-free public schools that are open to any student in Broward County. If demand exceeds available space at a charter school, enrollment is determined by randomized lottery. This gives families an alternative school choice option to pursue that aligns with their priorities, from college prep and STEAM to language immersion and performing arts.

Career and Technical Education

Students looking for an alternative to a traditional academic high school program can choose from Broward County’s wide selection of career and technical education (CTE) schools. These schools provide career-oriented training and education in fields like health science, construction, hospitality, information technology, and more. Many CTE programs offer industry certifications as well as the opportunity to earn college credit while in high school.

Some top CTE schools and programs in Broward County include:

  • Sheridan Technical High School: Over 25 CTE programs in fields ranging from veterinary assisting to cybersecurity.
  • McFatter Technical College: CTE courses for both high school and adult students in areas like culinary arts and nursing.
  • Atlantic Technical College: Dual enrollment programs in cosmetology, automotive technology, and EMT training.
  • South Plantation High School: Extensive CTE curricula including exercise science, web development, and television production.

CTE programs allow students to get hands-on training and applicable skills to prepare them for post-high school careers or technical college. These schools and curricula give students viable alternatives tailored specifically to their career interests and aspirations.

Transfer Programs

For high school students in Broward County who are having difficulties academically, behaviorally, or socially at their assigned neighborhood school, transfer programs provide school choice options to get a fresh start. The district offers involuntary transfer programs as well as voluntary transfer options:

  • Involuntary programs: For students who have committed serious violations of the code of conduct, they may be involuntarily transferred to an alternative disciplinary program such as PROMISE or Eagle Academy.
  • Voluntary programs: Students can apply for a voluntary transfer to attend a different traditional public school if they are facing challenges like bullying, safety issues, or harassment at their current school.

While intended for students facing difficulties at their home school, these transfer programs do provide school choice and the opportunity for a new environment to support the student’s needs and academic achievement.

Public School Choice

Under Florida’s Public School Choice laws, parents may request for their child to attend another public school in their county or an adjoining county if that school has not reached capacity. The chosen public school must have room to accept transfers and must offer services for any special needs or ELL requirements the student may have. This allows parents options beyond just their neighborhood zoned school.

To transfer under public school choice in Broward County, parents must submit an out-of-boundary application by the published deadline for the upcoming school year. Applications are approved if there is space available after students zoned for the requested school are enrolled. If the number of applicants exceeds available seats, a lottery is used to randomly select students. Priority is given to children of active duty military families under public school choice transfer requests.

Virtual School

For families looking for a more flexible, independent learning environment, Broward County’s virtual school is an option. Broward Virtual School provides a full-time online public school experience for students in grades K-12. Teachers deliver instruction live online and communicate with families as needed to support student learning.

Reasons families may choose Broward Virtual School include:

  • Health/medical needs where in-person attendance is difficult
  • Advanced learning opportunities through self-paced curriculum
  • College prep for students involved in athletics/arts/other activities
  • Support for gifted students or those with special learning needs
  • Flexible scheduling for students with family/work obligations

As an online public school, Broward Virtual provides a tuition-free alternative that allows families to exercise school choice for full-time virtual instruction.

Home Education

Florida families also have the option to home school their children, providing instruction at home through a home education program. To home school in Broward County, parents must register their intent to establish a home education program with the school district. The home education program must meet requirements covering subjects like reading, language arts, math, science, and social studies.

Some reasons parents in Broward County choose to home educate include:

  • Customizing curriculum to match their child’s learning style and needs
  • Providing religious or moral instruction
  • Having flexibility with schedules for travel, extracurriculars, medical needs, etc.
  • Giving one-on-one instruction and support

Home education gives families full control over their child’s learning for families seeking an alternative to traditional public and private schools.

Private School Options

Of course, private schools provide another alternative for families in Broward County. There are over 200 private and parochial schools in Broward County, ranging from small religious academies to large preparatory academies. Private schools are not run by the Broward school district and charge tuition, though some may offer need-based financial assistance.

Some of the largest private school options in the county include:

  • American Heritage School: Large private school with over 2000 students in grades K-12
  • Archbishop Edward McCarthy High School: Roman Catholic college preparatory high school
  • Pine Crest School: K-12 preparatory school with over 1900 students
  • Posnack School: Jewish day school serving over 500 students
  • University School of Nova Southeastern University: College preparatory school affiliated with NSU

Private schools allow families to find an educational environment aligned with their priorities, whether that be religious instruction, specialized curriculum, small class sizes, or prestige. The variety of private schools in Broward gives families options but also requires paying tuition.

Open Enrollment and School Capacity

While Broward County offers all of these school choice options, families do face some limitations depending on each school’s enrollment policies and current capacity. Magnet programs, career academies, charter schools, and transfer programs all have application procedures and may use randomized lotteries if interest exceeds available space. Private schools also must maintain small class sizes and control enrollment through admissions requirements.

Open enrollment policies aim to provide as many families as possible their top choice school, but popular programs and schools can fill up quickly. This means families should research all their school options as early as possible, meet important deadlines for applications and transfers, and sometimes be prepared with backup choices if their first pick reaches capacity.

Transportation Considerations

One potential drawback of school choice programs is transportation. Traditional neighborhood public schools provide busing to students living within an attendance boundary. However, most school choice options do not provide transportation outside of these usual bus routes.

When considering magnet programs, charters, transfers, and other school options, Broward families should factor in their transportation plans. This may involve arranging carpools with other families or relying on public transportation depending on the school’s location. Some schools may have limited shuttle services, but families should confirm details before enrolling.

School Performance and Accountability

Broward County publishes report cards and school profiles to help families evaluate the quality of school options during the selection process. While school choice provides flexibility, it is still important to consider factors like:

  • Academic achievement on state assessments
  • Graduation rates
  • Advanced coursework opportunities
  • Post-secondary readiness
  • Teacher qualifications
  • Awards and recognitions

Magnet programs and specialized schools often have very high academic indicators. But families should still research the performance of any school they are considering to ensure it will meet their child’s needs and prepare them for success.

Applying for School Choice Options

The first step for Broward families interested in school choice is to understand all the application processes and timelines involved. Key deadlines for popular school choice programs include:

  • Magnet school applications: Priority application period in October-January for following year admission
  • Charter schools: Varies by school, with most applications starting in late fall or early winter
  • Transfer requests: Out-of-boundary applications accepted starting end of February
  • Career academies: Variable by program, but early spring application is common

It is crucial families pay close attention to these deadlines and get their applications submitted early. Competition is high for seats in the most sought-after choice programs and schools in Broward.

In addition, it is usually possible to apply to multiple programs and schools simultaneously. Ranking top choices helps the district place students if they qualify for more than one option. This helps improve the chances students are able to secure one of their preferred school choice selections.

The Bottom Line on Broward School Choice

In summary, Broward County provides students and families with a robust set of school choice options beyond just the neighborhood zoned school. From academic magnets to career programs to charters and virtual instruction, families can find an educational experience tailored to their child’s needs and interests.

Navigating the different applications processes, weighing school quality indicators, and arranging transportation require research and planning. But the variety of choices available gives Broward families significant control over selecting the best school for their child. Taking advantage of school choice, whether within the district, through charters, or via private schools, remains one of the most empowering educational decisions a family can make.