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School Choice Resources

Two kindergarten students in a classroom holding up fish models.Find Answers to Frequently Answered Questions About School Choice

Few journeys are as consequential as the one that begins when young learners step foot into kindergarten and that ends as they cross the graduation stage and earn a high school diploma. How that journey goes, how much students’ unique needs are met, how much their interests and strengths are nourished, how many meaningful relationships they form, will all play an outsized role in their ability to thrive after high school.

With expanded choices and the many elements of school choice, it’s easy to feel confused and overwhelmed. We hope to make the process of finding the best academic fit a little easier.

The FAQ below seeks to answer questions about school choice and provides links to many resources that will help you find answers and access more resources.

We also encourage you to check out “Navigating School Choice,” an episode of our podcast Education Conversations. The episodes, with guest Millie Wheeler, the Supervisor of the Office of School Choice and Student Assignment for Sarasota County Schools, provides an overview of school choice and practical guidance to get started.

What is school choice?

School choice is a broad term that can apply to opportunities for students and families to attend schools and find resources and learning environments that best suit their unique needs.

School choice options include:

  • Controlled open enrollment (available February 1 – 29).
  • Charter schools.
  • Magnet schools.
  • Schools with magnet and special programs.
  • Scholarships.
  • Virtual school, home school, and private school.

Learn more about school choice in Sarasota County Schools.

Find school choice resources from the Florida Department of Education.

What are charter schools?

Charter schools are more independent from traditional public schools. These publicly funded schools establish charters with local or state school boards to establish accountability. With increased flexibility, they can provide a specific educational focus and educational opportunities.

Charter schools are free for students to attend, but they have an application process that for some schools includes a lottery or a waitlist depending on enrollment.

View a list of charter schools in Sarasota County.

What are magnet schools and magnet and special programs?

Magnet schools are free public schools across the district that have unique programs. Some schools have magnet programs such as Visual and Performing Arts (VPA), International Baccalaureate (IB), Advanced International Certificate of Education (AICE), and many others. The programs at these schools have admissions criteria. You’ll want to visit the school’s website to learn more.

Start with this list of magnet schools and special programs.

What is the process of applying to attend a different school, also called controlled open enrollment (COE)?

Controlled open enrollment (COE), which is available from February 1 – February 29 at 4:30 p.m., allows parents to apply to have their student attend a public school other than the one than their zoned school. Parents can apply to up to three schools. Availability can vary, and after parents apply, school selection will be determined through a lottery process.

View a brief video and find a more detailed step-by-step explanation.

What scholarships are available through school choice?

Through the continuing expansion of school choice, there are many scholarship programs available that can help families afford academic programs or resources that will meet the unique needs of their child.

 Florida offers the following: Family Empowerment Scholarships, Florida Tax Credit Scholarships, Hope Scholarships, New Worlds Reading Scholarships, and Opportunity Scholarships.

 Learn more about these scholarship programs.

What are Family Empowerment Scholarships (FES)?

Family Empowerment Scholarships seek to remove barriers that can limit families from accessing the best school for their child’s needs, whether that be private or public.

There are two kinds of these scholarships:

  • Family Empowerment Scholarships for Educational Options provide students with funds to access educational options such as attending private schools.
  • Family Empowerment Scholarships for Students with Unique Abilities helps students with disabilities access resources and educational options.

These scholarships are administered through two organizations: A.A.A. Scholarships Foundation-FL, LLC and Step Up for Students. You can visit their websites to learn more and apply.

Learn more about Family Empowerment Scholarships.

 

What are some limitations for school choice?

School choice provide students and families many options. However, there are limitations. A few include:

  • Magnet programs such as International Baccalaureate (IB), Advanced International Certificate of Education (AICE), and others each have their own application process and deadlines.
  • Some magnet and charter schools have applications, a lottery system, a wait list, and deadlines.
  • For controlled open enrollment, the window to apply to up to three schools is limited to the month of February. Also, placement in schools is done through a lottery system and is based on capacity at schools and the grade level.

To ensure you have the most options, start the search and application process early!

Acronym glossary:

Below is a list of common acronyms you may encounter when exploring school choice.

AP. Advanced Placement. Many high schools across the district provide AP courses. These advanced courses allow students to earn college credit if they successfully complete the course and pass their AP exam.

AICE. Advanced International Certificate of Education. This is an international education program that provides rigorous coursework with an international focus. In Sarasota County Schools, AICE is offered as a magnet program at the middle school and high school level at various schools. Students who earn an AICE diploma can receive college credit if they continue to college or university.

COE. Controlled open enrollment, which is available from February 1 – February 29. Parents can apply to up to three schools. Availability can vary, and after parents apply, school selection will be determined through a lottery process. Learn more.

FDOE. The Florida Department of Education, which is Florida’s state education agency. Visit their homepage.

FES. Family Empowerment Scholarships. This program provides scholarships for students to access educational options. Learn more.

FES EO. Family Empowerment Scholarship for Educational Options. These scholarships are available to all students in Florida to provide access to educational options such as private school, tutoring, and other resources.

FES UA. Family Empowerment Scholarship for Unique Abilities. These scholarships help students with learning differences access resources and school options that help them thrive.

FLVS. Florida Virtual School. This is an internet-based, virtual K – 12 school option for students. It provides online and blended learning opportunities. Learn more.

IB. International Baccalaureate. This is an international education program that provides rigorous coursework with an international focus. In Sarasota County Schools, IB is offered as a magnet program at the elementary, middle school, and high school level at various schools. Students who earn an IB diploma can receive college credit if they continue to college or university.

SFO. Scholarship Funding Organization. There are two of these organizations that administer the Family Empowerment Scholarships.

VPA. Visual and Performing Arts. This magnet program provides arts education for students interested in disciplines such as visual art, theater, dance, and others. It is offered at the middle and high school level.

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