Saturday, February 17, 2018
Education

More school choice means more responsibility

"Have it your way" isn't just a slogan for Burger King anymore.

Schools, too, offer more choices than ever. And Pinellas parents, as much as parents anywhere, have both benefitted and been befuddled by the head-spinning list of options in front of them.

The district offers magnets and fundamentals and career academies.

Business chains and mom-and-pops offer charter schools.

The state offers vouchers for private schools.

To give but one example of how much things have changed, and how fast, consider that Pinellas had just six charter schools in 2008. Now it has 17, enrolling some 4,000 students, with four more scheduled to open in the fall.

All that choice means parents can shop around for the best fit for their child. They can opt for the Center for Mathematics and Engineering at Jamerson Elementary, for example, or the Academie Da Vinci Charter School for the Arts. If they're eligible, they can use a voucher at Bethel Community Christian School.

The choices are no longer so starkly divided between public and private, either. Charter schools use public money but are run by private boards. Tax-credit vouchers, worth $4,011 each this year, are available to any student who qualifies for free or reduced-price lunch. That's roughly half of the students in Pinellas.

For parents, all that choice means more responsibility, too.

How can you tell if a school is right for your kid? How do you know if it's a high quality operation?

Even diligent parents can get flustered. A school grade and FCAT scores can only tell you so much. Sometimes, for example, there are gaps as big as the Sunshine Skyway between magnet and nonmagnet students in the same school. But that information isn't readily available. A private school's academic results can be even harder to find.

For some parents, that's a problem. For others, it's not. It comes down to what they think is right for their child.

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