As Pasco County's School District begins a tardy study of magnet school programs, it would be wise to consider rekindling a popular educational opportunity that disappeared from this county a generation ago — the fundamental school.
The district once operated a fundamental school at Richey Elementary but killed the program 18 years ago amid pressure from school crowding and a state push to increase parental involvement that the district said made a separate fundamental school obsolete.
But evidence elsewhere indicates the fundamental concept — strict discipline codes, meat-and-potatoes academics and mandatory parental participation — is popular with parents.
Fundamental schools carry no exorbitant start-up costs because they offer no special programs or amenities — not even transportation beyond the normal zoned boundary. However, the schools' seriousness of purpose and the absence of discipline problems is attractive to involved parents seeking education alternatives for their children.
For proof, Pasco can check the data in Pinellas County. At the start of the last school year, 8,450 students applied for the 800 open seats in fundamental schools there. Pinellas also tracked students who applied for fundamentals but did not get in and discovered 40 percent of those students left the public school system altogether. That means schools are missing the good example those pupils would have set in the classroom, the involved parents they likely have and the tax dollars the district receives for every student enrolled.
Pasco, meanwhile, is beginning a parent survey as part of an investigation into magnets and other choices as it watches growth in home schooling, charter school enrollment, online classes and other educational alternatives.
All of the school districts surrounding Pasco, including the much smaller Hernando County, offer magnet schools featuring specialized curriculum that can focus on a variety of subjects from foreign languages, to performing arts, science, mathematics, vocational training and other topics.
Pasco would have been wise to start down a similar path before now, but the district is correct to investigate new possibilities rather than settling for the status quo. Adding the fundamental school concept is a logical place to start.