Charter schools and unbundling: Now a real possibility in Florida

Last week, hundreds of Florida charter school educators convened in Orlando for the state’s annual charter school conference. One hot topic was HB 1, the new state legislation that made every family in the state eligible for education choice scholarships.

Right now, the scholarships help hundreds of thousands of families pay private-school tuition. But the law also gives families more flexibility in how they can use the funds. And that has the potential to unlock a new opportunity for public schools: offering unbundled services to families.

That could include one-off courses like biology or precalculus, or courses tied to extracurricular activities that students enrolled in private schools or home education programs might take at a local public school. It could eventually include other learning options public schools have yet to conceive.

“As families start to curate and customize their children’s education a lot more… I hope that charters, because they tend to be more innovative, will see that as an opportunity and will sell classes a la carte,” John Kirtley, the founder and chairman of Step Up For Students, said during the conference’s opening session, which emphasized unifying the education choice movement around charter schools, private schools, and scholarship programs.

(Step Up For Students issues the bulk of Florida’s education choice scholarships and also publishes this blog).

HB 1 converted all of Florida’s major school choice scholarships to education savings accounts (ESAs) that parents can use for a variety of education expenses. One category of expenses allowed under state law is public school services, including classes.

Kirtley said that provision creates an opportunity for charter schools to serve students who don’t enroll full-time.

“You might have an empty seat, and what would the market pay for that?” he said. “Well, now that parent with an ESA can buy a class from you.”

Manny Diaz Jr., the state’s education commissioner, said it may take some time for parents and public schools to figure out how to manage unbundling. But if they do, charter schools could help meet the needs of families who want to educate their children at home part-time, or access courses from multiple schools and providers.

“Now you’ve created a whole new revenue stream and a whole set of services for these parents,” he said. “I think the next step where HB 1 really gets rocking and rolling is when parents figure that out and the market provides that opportunity.”

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BY Travis Pillow

Travis Pillow is Director of Thought Leadership at Step Up For Students and editor of NextSteps. He lives in Sanford, Fla. with his wife and two children. A former Tallahassee statehouse reporter, he most recently worked at the Center on Reinventing Public Education, a research organization at Arizona State University, where he studied community-led learning innovation and school systems' responses to the Covid-19 pandemic. He can be reached at tpillow (at)