Bring out yer dead — Florida edition!

So last week I related the incredibly weak evidence for the “death” of district schooling in Arizona. That evidence shows flat to gently sloping enrollment district enrollment, all-time highs for spending and remarkable academic improvement. Given that Arizona districts look more like an Olympic gold medalist than a corpse, I decided to check Florida for signs of mortality.

Behold: the “death” of Florida district education:

Rather than “dying” Florida school districts have added a number of students more than three times the size of the K-12 enrollment of Wyoming between 2003 and 2021 despite the growth of choice options. Moreover, Florida’s spending per pupil increased faster than inflation during this period, so more students and a higher real spending per pupil is a very odd way to “destroy” school districts.

Private choice enrollment has grown since 2021 (the latest data available across sectors) and now is likely slightly above Florida charter school enrollment. That would be because Florida’s lawmakers have (wisely) adopted policies to create a demand-driven K-12 system. Let’s check the NAEP to see how that went pre-pandemic:

Not bad, especially considering that Florida made huge NAEP progress before 2003 (before all states began participating in NAEP). As you can see from Figure 1, a large majority of Florida students still attend district schools, so we can safely infer that those district schools perform far better than they did before the advent of choice in the 1990s.

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BY Matthew Ladner

Matthew Ladner is executive editor of Next Steps. He has written numerous studies on school choice, charter schools and special education reform, and his articles have appeared in Education Next; the Catholic Education: A Journal of Inquiry and Practice; and the British Journal of Political Science. He is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin and received a master's degree and a Ph.D. in political science from the University of Houston. He lives in Phoenix with his wife and three children.