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    The rise of à la carte learning in South Florida foreshadows the transition from school choice to education choice as more families across America access state-supported education savings accounts (ESAs) and other flexible spending vehicles.
    They’re small, flexible, diverse, stackable, and usually focused on single subjects. They fill gaps left by traditional providers, enhance the work of newer options like micro-schools, and stretch the definition of public education.
    As à la carte providers expand in tandem with ESAs, more families can assemble exactly what they want for their children, mixing and matching from an ever-growing variety of learning programs, services, and providers.
    Education entrepreneurs, including former public teachers, can continue leveraging ESAs to start their own schools. As more parents access ESAs, creating narrowly focused à la carte options will become increasingly viable.
    To ensure the sustained growth of à la carte providers, policymakers must continue working with parents, providers, and other stakeholders to raise awareness about the possibilities, better define success and accountability, and thoughtfully strengthen processes for everything from determining eligibility to facilitating payments.




Broward County is a cramped patch of palmy, South Florida sprawl, with 2 million people stuffed between the swamp (the Everglades) and the sea (the Atlantic). It’s home to the sixth-biggest school district in America, a goliath stacked between two other behemoths.1The Broward County school district abuts the Miami-Dade County school district to the south and the Palm Beach County school district to the north. Those three districts are, respectively, the sixth-, fourth-, and 10th-biggest in America. For more: Enrollment, poverty, and federal funds for the 120 largest school districts, by enrollment size in 2021: School year 2019-20 and fiscal year 2022. (2022). Digest of Education Statistics, Table 2015.30, National Center for Education Statistics. https://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d21/tables/dt21_215.30.asp Nothing in this semi-tropical megalopolis looks like the frontier. But in the shadow of giants, education pioneers, freed by state policy and state funding, are blazing trails to something new and nimble—and more fun to boot.


With universal, state-supported education savings accounts (ESAs) taking root in Florida, Arizona, and a growing handful of other states,2 The ABCs of School Choice: The comprehensive guide to every private school program in America, 2024 edition. EdChoice, 3. https://www.edchoice.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/11/2024-ABCs-of-School-Choice.pdf the transition from school choice to education choice is beginning to accelerate. In Florida, the steady expansion of school choice spurred a net gain of 854 new private schools and charter schools over the past decade alone. 3Between 2012-13 and 2022-23, Florida saw a net gain of 706 new private schools and 148 new charter schools, according to Florida Department of Education data compiled by the author. The total number of new private and charter schools over that span is higher, but the figure does not account for schools that closed. The private school numbers can be found here: https://www.fldoe.org/schools/school-choice/private-schools/annual-reports.stml That trend toward more and better schools will continue. And now, as ESAs expand, whole new species of little learning options are beginning to emerge.



Not only is South Florida—and Broward in particular—a nationally recognized hot spot for micro-schools,4Innovative Educators Network heads to Fort Lauderdale for education conference. (2024, January 18). Florida Politics. https://floridapolitics.com/archives/653710-innovative-educators-network-heads-to-fort-lauderdale-for-education-conference/ but it’s also alive with a small but growing number of eclectic enrichment providers, single-subject operators, and tutors with a twist. Nobody has a handle on exact numbers, and nobody has put together a directory yet. But at least a couple dozen of these providers are already serving thousands of students.


Their contribution to the choice menu is à la carte.


Some of these à la carte providers are tied into South Florida’s micro-school network, essentially acting as subcontractors to provide lessons in a variety of subjects, be it core academics or cooking, coding, and composting. Others serve mostly home-schoolers. Many do both.


It’s like a twist on that old Burger King slogan: Have it your way. Except the menu isn’t confined to the educational equivalent of fast food.


The à la carte operators and other innovative educators in South Florida are starting to generate their own well-deserved buzz.5Innovative Educators Network heads to Fort Lauderdale for education conference. (2024, January 18). Florida Politics. https://floridapolitics.com/archives/653710-innovative-educators-network-heads-to-fort-lauderdale-for-education-conference/ At the same time, they’re complementing a rich swirl of other à la carte offerings, some old, some new, and some in a whole different light, thanks to the game-changing flexibility of ESAs.


Florida Virtual School has been offering “course choice” for a quarter century. Home-school co-ops have been doing the same for decades; tutors, for millennia. Today, parents with ESAs can choose from any of these options. They can also tack on individual classes from public or private schools, tap lively online platforms like Outschool, or add other education-related offerings like chess clubs, robotics teams, or Tinkergarten. Like apps for your phone, the combinations are endless. Now there’s even a platform, MatchED, that can help families sort through the possibilities.


In Florida, thousands of ESA parents of students with special needs have been quietly trailblazing à la carte learning for a decade and showing other parents what’s doable.


Educators are benefiting, too. With ESAs, education entrepreneurs can more easily create any number of options that sync with their visions of teaching and learning. They can create a whole package of a school if they want; in South Florida, scores of micro-schools serve as models and inspirations. But if they’d rather focus on a more granular offering, the early evidence suggests that route is viable, too.


The contrast between these new providers and their traditional counterparts is stark. A recent Pew Research survey of 2,500 public school teachers nationwide found 68 percent said their job was overwhelming, and only 20 percent expected public education to be better in five years.6Lin, L., Parker, K., & Horowitz, J. M. (2024, April 4). What’s It Like To Be a Teacher in America Today? Pew Research Center. https://www.pewresearch.org/social-trends/2024/04/04/whats-it-like-to-be-a-teacher-in-america-today/ In South Florida, meanwhile, the joy of parents and providers who are shaping their own educational destinies is palpable.


This white paper aims to give a national audience a taste of the à la carte options emerging in South Florida, touch on factors feeding its growth, and offer a few suggestions to further fuel it.


Tyler Izuagie, a former public school teacher who founded the Horizon Learning micro-school in Miramar, 30 minutes north of Miami, leans on a handful of à la carte providers to offer her students deeper dives into the subjects they and their families want to pursue. For marine science, they turn to Saltwater Studies, one of the providers featured in this report. “I loved how she ignited my students’ passion in marine life,” Izuagie said of Saltwater Studies founder Christa Jewett. “She’s able to reach the students in a way that I’m not able to.” The same goes for the other providers Horizon contracts with, who separately teach African dance, African drums, coding, and robotics.



Shiren Rattigan, the founder of Colossal Academy in Fort Lauderdale (and also a former public school teacher), also contracts with multiple à la carte providers. In some cases, the entities only now realize that what they’re doing fits under the broader, bottom-up definition of public education being ushered in by ESAs. For example, Colossal students are building a garden under the guidance of a small company that sets up residential composting systems. That company is now developing a learning program specifically for students and gearing up to become a provider that parents can access via ESAs.





So how’s this for a science classroom?


These students are snorkeling on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean in a place called Jupiter Inlet. They’re enrolled in an à la carte learning program called Saltwater Studies.


Saltwater Studies was started in 2011 by Christa Jewett, a marine biologist who used to work for an environmental consulting firm. Now she teaches students from kindergarten to high school in South Florida’s expanding network of home-schools and micro-schools.


More than a dozen state and county parks function as their classrooms. At one, Jewett secured a state permit so her students could contribute data to a marine life monitoring project.


This is what “school” can look like in a world where entrepreneurs can leverage education choice programs to create innovative options and parents can use those programs to access them.


Until a few years ago, Jewett had to work side jobs because her immersive science lessons alone wouldn’t pay the bills. Then COVID-19 happened. Suddenly, more parents, dissatisfied with traditional schools for multiple reasons, wanted more options.


Now Jewett’s serving 200 students a month. That’s triple the number from 2020 and 20 times the number she started with in 2011.


“It’s gotten so big so fast, it’s surreal,” Jewett said. Last school year, about 15 students used ESAs to access Saltwater Studies. This year, the number is 32 and counting. Now that Florida has universal eligibility for ESAs, even more students and families will be able to access what Jewett and other entrepreneurs are creating.


Read more: https://nextstepsblog.org/2024/06/spotlight-saltwater-studies/



These middle school students at the Colossal Academy micro-school had a blast making zucchini boats under the guidance of Alicia Garcia, a former chef who now leads a unique educational provider called Project Flourish.


Project Flourish specializes in customized cooking lessons that go beyond cooking. Math, science, culture, trade, agriculture, and everything else related to food are effortlessly weaved in.


“Food is applicable to every subject,” Garcia said. “It’s not just enrichment. It’s core. It’s life-changing.”


Garcia did not set out to be an educator.


She has a background in culinary arts and fashion design. But the pieces for what became Project Flourish began to click into place as she moved through a series of roles that involved cooking, teaching, and farming.


At one stop, she was the chef at a private school. At another, she was a home economics teacher. At yet another, her family lived on a farm. There, she made connections with other local farmers and became more engaged with sustainable agriculture.


What began as a part-time enterprise doing cooking lessons became full-time when COVID-19 descended in 2020. Project Flourish was born.


“The programming just exploded,” Garcia said.


Read more: https://nextstepsblog.org/2024/06/spotlight-project-flourish/




In 1977, a 15-year-old skateboarder in South Florida named Alan Gelfand invented a revolutionary move called “the ollie.” The ollie has been called the “cornerstone of modern skateboarding” because future skateboarders would use it as the building block for so many gravity-defying tricks.


In a similar vein six years ago, Toni and Uli Frallicciardi—who, as fate would have it, live in South Florida and know Gelfand—invented their own distinctive move in the education space.


Their outfit, Surf Skate Science, isn’t a school. It focuses on a single subject area. But it does so in a way that allows its classes to be a building block.


The classes can stand alone or be plugged into South Florida’s network of micro-schools. They can also be mixed and matched with other providers into whatever combination a family may want.


Truth be told, that’s not what the Frallicciardis intended in the beginning.


“We had no idea how this would grow,” Toni Frallicciardi said. “We were just trying to figure out what would work for our kids.”


The Frallicciardis aren’t alone in their creativity or in their ability to seize on serendipity.


What’s rising in South Florida evokes “The Geography of Genius.” In a few short years, scores of educators have created a completely self-sufficient alternative ecosystem, with à la carte providers like Surf Skate Science an increasingly important component. Micro-school founder Shiren Rattigan, whose Colossal Academy works with a dozen of them, said, “We’re the soup. They’re the spice.”


Read more: https://nextstepsblog.org/2024/06/spotlight-surf-skate-science/


Florida has long had a critical shortage of public school science teachers. But growing numbers of students in South Florida’s booming alternative education networks are learning science from a real-life scientist.


Dr. Neymi Layne Mignocchi has two master’s degrees in biology and experimental psychology and a Ph.D. in neuroscience. She worked for six years as a molecular biologist at the Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience. Her research accomplishments include developing a genetically encoded sensor for oxytocin, which plays a critical role in childbirth.


After the birth of her first child four years ago, Mignocchi decided to home-school and embark on a career path that would combine her love for science with her love for teaching.


Eye of a Scientist customizes experiential science lessons for students who are either home-schooled or in micro-schools. Most of them are in elementary grades.


Mignocchi began three years ago with 30 students. Now she’s teaching more than 150. The demand is so great that Mignocchi recently hired a graduate student in science to help teach some of her classes, and she’s interviewed a second for the likely expansion ahead.


“This is progressing faster than I ever expected.” she said.


Mignocchi’s goal is to inspire students and teachers.


She wants the former to know that they, too, can grow up to be scientists and the latter to know that there are other ways to deliver science instruction that might be more effective for students and rewarding for themselves.


Read more: https://nextstepsblog.org/2024/06/spotlight-eye-of-a-scientist/



Joelle Smith’s school-on-wheels is literally a dream come true.


In 2022, Smith had a dream so vivid it woke her at 4 a.m. It built on a vision she had in her 20s before she became a public school teacher, in which she imagined herself leading tours of students abroad. This time, the dream included a bus.


A few months later, The Living School was born.


“It’s about using the world to learn, ” Smith said. “It’s about how much we have in our community. We’re such a melting pot here. There’s so much culture. It’s incredible.”


The Living School offers customized field trips that Smith calls “missions.”


All but two of her students have special needs, many of them on the autism spectrum. She picks them up in a 14-seat Ford Starcraft, then transports them to parks, museums, nature centers, farms, historic houses, the airport, the beach…


The list is potentially endless. And Smith is just getting started.


Last year, The Living School began with five students. This year, it has 25. The students range in age from 6 to 18. All but one use an ESA.


“I guess I knew the potential, but I didn’t expect it would happen,” Smith said. “It’s a little crazy.”


Smith was a middle school teacher for 13 years. She taught language arts and drama. In 2012, she underwent brain surgery and resigned for medical reasons. She later worked at a tutoring center for home-schoolers.


Leveraging ESAs allowed her to create her own model and shape it in a way that she felt was best for students.


Read more: https://nextstepsblog.org/2024/06/spotlight-the-living-school/



A combination of factors is helping juice what’s happening in South Florida. Essentially: More choice, more flexibility, and more home-schoolers are yielding ever more resourceful parents and ever more responsive providers.


Here’s a little more on each of those ingredients behind the rise of à la carte learning.



Florida has long been home to one of the nation’s most robust and diverse arrays of school choice and education choice scholarships. In fact, this year marks the 25th anniversary of Florida’s first private school choice program.


Now Florida has “universal choice.” In March 2023, the Florida Legislature passed, and Gov. Ron DeSantis signed, House Bill 1. The law makes every student in Florida, all 3.4 million at present and all students going forward, eligible for a state-supported ESA.


As Figure 1 shows, the number of Florida students using education choice scholarships continues to rise steadily. This year, more than 380,000 students used them.


Source: Florida Department of Education and Step Up For Students. *The 2023-24 numbers reflect scholarship numbers through May 2024.


Over time, eligibility for scholarships expanded, as did the amount of funding per scholarship and the total amount of state support for scholarships.


The result: More and more families have been gaining access to more and more options. As they’ve done so, more and more providers have entered the market to create them.



ESAs are far more flexible than traditional school choice scholarships because parents can use the funds for more than just tuition and fees at a private school. Thousands of Florida families, led by parents of students with special needs, have been pioneering the use of ESAs to customize their child’s education, often by relying on a suite of à la carte providers.


There are multiple types of ESA scholar-ships in Florida, with different degrees of funding and flexibility.




Two scholarships are included in this category: The Florida Tax Credit Scholarship (FTC) and the Family Empowerment Scholarship for Educational Options (FES-EO). The Florida Tax Credit Scholarship was created in 2001 and is funded by corporate contributions in return for dollar-for-dollar tax credits. The Family Empowerment Scholarship for Educational Options was created in 2019 and is funded by the state.


Both scholarships are worth the same amount, with the average ranging between $7,430 and $8,120 this school year, depending on grade level and county of residence. Both can be used for some programs and services beyond tuition, such as tutors, curriculum, and instructional materials. Only a small percentage of FTC and FES-EO families have ESA funds remaining after tuition.




Florida created an ESA for students with special needs in 2014. It’s now called the Family Empowerment Scholarship for Students with Unique Abilities (FES-UA). In 2022, that program absorbed the McKay Scholarship, a private school choice scholarship for students with disabilities, and converted it into an ESA. The FES-UA is worth about $10,000 per year, and it’s Florida’s most flexible ESA. It can be used for a wide range of programs and services, including tuition, tutors, therapists, curriculum, instructional materials, digital devices, and specialized after-school and summer school programs.




HB 1 also created a new opportunity for students who are not enrolled in full-time public or private schools. The Personalized Education Program, or PEP, is a subset of the FTC Scholarship. It was available to 20,000 students in the 2023-24 school year and will be available for up to 40,000 additional students each subsequent year through 2027, after which the participation cap will be removed. PEP scholarships are valued the same as FTC and FES-EO scholarships and can be used for the same categories of expenses. As with those other scholarships, state law requires PEP students to annually take a norm-referenced test in math and reading, which will be good to keep in mind as debates over “accountability” inevitably arise.




This is an ESA currently available to public school students in grades K-5 who are struggling in reading and/or math. It can be used for part-time tutoring, summer and after-school literacy programs, curriculum, instructional materials, and more. New Worlds Scholarships awarded for the 2024-25 school year will also be available to students in Voluntary Prekindergarten and the per-scholarship amount will increase from $500 to $1,200.



Home schooling has been on the rise nationally7Smith, A. G., & Campbell, J. (2023). Homeschooling is on the rise, even as the pandemic recedes. Reason Foundation. https://reason.org/commentary/homeschooling-is-on-the-rise-even-as-the-pandemic-recedes/, and Florida is no exception. Over the past five years, the number of home-schooled students in Florida has risen 72 percent to 154,289.8Home Education in Florida: 2022-23 School Year Annual Report. (2023). Florida Department of Education. https://www.fldoe.org/core/fileparse.php/5606/urlt/Home-Ed-Annual-Report-2022-23.pdf The biggest spike came in 2020 after the COVID-19 pandemic spurred school closings.


Broward County should be a national poster child for this shift. See Figure 2.

Source: Florida Department of Education

NO BIG URBAN DISTRICT IN FLORIDA HAS SEEN A BIGGER JUMP IN HOMESCHOOLERS, EITHER IN RAW NUMBERS OR RATE OF GROWTH. BROWARD HAD 4,146 HOME-SCHOOLERS IN 2017-18. IT HAD 9,811 IN 2022-23. EVEN AFTER A DIP IN 2022-23, THAT’S A FIVE YEAR JUMP OF 137 PERCENT.9These numbers are via the Florida Department of Education’s annual home education reports.

Miami-Dade County, to the south of Broward, had a 95 percent increase over that span; Palm Beach County, to the north, had a 70 percent increase10 Ibid .


Thousands of new home-schoolers meant more families in search of à la carte options—and more opportunities for innovative providers.


There are a number of factors to watch as the trend lines unfold.


A key one is the new PEP scholarship. It’s likely to make parent-directed learning more attractive to families who previously didn’t have the financial resources to make it work.


On a related note, HB 1 also highlighted an excellent opportunity for à la carte options in public schools. It made part-time enrollment in public schools explicitly available to Florida families, including home-schoolers and families who do parent-directed learning.


There seems to be limited awareness about this option, but that may change as more families realize the massive buffet of “course choices” right in front of them.


The rise of à la carte learning providers in South Florida coincides with a rise in parents who want à la carte learning. Even before the 2023 change in Florida law made every student eligible for an ESA, thousands of Florida families were using ESAs for students with special needs.


In 2022-23, the parents of 19,488 Florida students were using ESAs to customize, according to data from Step Up For Students. See Figure 3. That is, they were spending ESA funds on at least two different categories of expenditures, such as tuition and tutors. That was more than triple the number from five years prior.

Source: Step Up For Students


They were home-schooling their children and using ESA funds to purchase educational products and services in at least two categories other than private school tuition. That number, too, had more than tripled from five years prior.


Two studies have shed light on what Florida’s pace-setting ESA families are doing.


A 2018 report from EdChoice, co-au-thored by Lindsey Burke and Jason Bedrick, looked at ESA spending patterns during the first two years of the unique abilities ESA program, in 2014-15 and 2015-16. In year one, 35 percent of the students were customizing. In year two, 42 percent were. About half of those families were what Burke and Bedrick called “independent customizers.”11Burke, L., & Bedrick, J. (2018). Personalizing Education: How Florida Families Use Education Savings Accounts. EdChoice. https://www.edchoice.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/Personalizing-Education-By-Lindsey-Burke-and-Jason-Bedrick.pdf


More recently, a 2022 report from Michelle Lofton at the University of Georgia and Marty Lueken at EdChoice examined ESA spending patterns from 2014-15 to 2018-19. They found the longer that families used the ESA, the more they spent each year; the more frequently they made purchases; and the more diverse their expenditures became. Over time, ESA families as a whole spent less on tuition and more on curriculum, tutoring, and therapists.12Lofton, M. L., & Lueken, M. F. (2022). Distribution of Education Savings Account Usage among Families: Evidence from the Florida Gardiner Scholarship Program. Journal of School Choice, 16(4), 649-674. https://www.fldoe.org/core/fileparse.php/5606/urlt/Home-Ed-Annual-Report-2022-23.pdf


As more Florida parents have accessed ESAs, they have pulled thousands of providers beyond schools into a redefined public education system.


For one example, consider the growing number of tutors who receive ESA funding. See Figure 4.


Source: Step Up For Students


Between 2017-18 and 2022-23, the number of full- and part-time tutors serving Florida ESA families quadrupled, climbing from 739 to 2,983, according to Step Up For Students data. (That number does not include tutors serving students using the New Worlds scholarship.)


Many of these tutors are traditional, but a small but growing number are like those spotlighted in this white paper: entrepreneurs who created a fresh approach to whatever realm parents deemed educationally valuable—and then could be paid with ESA funds.


The number of independent therapists serving ESA families is also growing. According to Step Up data, between 2017-18 and 2022-23, the number of ESA-funded individuals offering speech therapy, physical therapy, occupational therapy, Applied Behavior Analysis, and other therapies rose from 2,008 to 4,790.




Berkeley law professors Jack Coons (left) and Stephen Sugarman described what we now call education savings accounts – and a system of à la carte learning – in their 1978 book, “Education by Choice.”


The rise of à la carte learning via ESAs may be new. But the idea isn’t.


Back in the disco days of 1978, a couple of University of California, Berkeley law professors who were leading supporters of education choice pitched the idea in a well-received book that has since become a classic.


In “Education by Choice: The Case for Family Control,” John E. “Jack” Coons and Stephen Sugarman re-imagined the traditional public school system.13 Coons, J., & Sugarman, S. (1978). Education by Choice: The Case for Family Control. Berkeley: The University of California Press.


The book describes and endorses what we now call charter schools (Coons and Sugarman called them “public scholarship schools”); ESAs (they referred to “divisible educational expe-riences”); micro-schools (“minischools”); learning pods (“living room schools”); and even choice navigators (they referred to an “education broker or clearing house” that would link families to options for a small fee paid out of the state-funded choice scholarship).


Ahead of the curve, for sure.


But Coons and Sugarman were most enthusiastic about what they called “personally tailored education,” which basically amounted to à la carte learning:

“To us, a more attractive idea is matching up a child and a series of individual instructors who operate independently from one another. Studying reading in the morning at Ms. Kay’s house, spending two afternoons a week learning a foreign language in Mr. Buxbaum’s electronic laboratory, and going on nature walks and playing tennis the other afternoons under the direction of Mr. Phillips could be a rich package for a ten-year-old.”


They continued:


“… Kay, Buxbaum, and Phillips need have no organizational ties with one another. Nor would all children studying with Kay need to spend time with Buxbaum and Phillips; instead some would do math with Mr. Feller or animal care with Mr. Vetter. This system for arranging a personally tailored education through state subsidy has the additional advantage of easily accommodating part-time teachers.”


“Education by Choice” foreshadowed the joyous uprising of education entrepreneurs in South Florida. Coons and Sugarman even described the possibility of a “mobile school” (The Living School!) and predicted the hurdles micro-schools and pods would face with local building and zoning codes.


The Berkeley duo isn’t important just because they had uncanny foresight. Their often-overlooked vision says a lot about the intentionally buried politics of school choice.


For decades, opponents of choice have characterized it as some kind of vast, right-wing plot. Many political conservatives have been staunch supporters of choice; their absolutely vital contributions to advancing education freedom should be honored. But it’s undisputable that education choice has deep roots— and continued support—all along the political spectrum.



The ferment in South Florida suggests a growing demand for à la carte learning and growing activity among education entrepreneurs to meet that demand. At the same time, it’s not hard to find:

  • Parents who don’t realize, even in a state with universal choice, that ESAs are available.14This is particularly true of lower-income families, according to a 2023 Tyton Partners survey of more than 1,200 parents in the two leading ESA states, Florida and Arizona. 55 percent of parents with household incomes of less than $50,000 a year were unaware of ESAs, compared to 29 percent of parents with household incomes in the $100,000-$150,000 range. See “Paying for Choice 2024, Part II: Addressing the Awareness and Accessibility Gap of ESAs,” p. 9. https://tytonpartners.com/paying-for-choice-2024/
  • Education providers who do not realize they can leverage ESA funding to reach more students.
  • Potential providers who do not realize they have the skills to offer a marketable education service.
  • Still other potential providers who do know what’s possible yet are stymied by barriers both common to many entrepreneurs and specific to their niche.

Policymakers, philanthropists, choice advocates, scholarship funding organizations, colleges of education, and others all have roles to play in mitigating these barriers. Among the improvement opportunities:




Traditional educators, by and large, do not realize the possibilities now available to them with the expansion of education choice, even in those states that are choice leaders. In Florida, conditions are increasingly favorable to entrepreneurs who want to create options, whether it’s a school or an à la carte provider. Choice advocates and others should work to better inform educators about these opportunities, particularly public school educators experiencing historic levels of frustration.




Colleges of education should consider programming that better prepares up-and-coming teachers for sustained success in a rapidly evolving education environment that is increasingly choice-driven. That means not only having the tools necessary to work in options across sectors but also having the chops to create their own options. Thankfully, the National Microschooling Center and a number of micro-school networks, including some in South Florida, are helping entrepreneurs start their own micro-schools, while groups like the yes. every kid. foundation are helping those entrepreneurs navigate regulatory hurdles. Similar efforts directed at potential à la carte providers would be welcome.




The process of approving and onboarding providers to participate in the growing marketplace for ESAs must be smooth, quick, and transparent. Potential providers should have easy access to clear approval criteria, and there should be clear, immediate feedback from scholarship funding organizations and/or state education departments for any questions that arise.




À la carte providers in Florida are often paid as tutors, but the current statutory requirements for tutors appear to be limited. For example, they do not appear to allow many people skilled in the trades, such as electricians and carpenters, to be approved tutors. Policymakers may want to consider expanding eligibility requirements to include professionals with state licenses, and establishing a process where provider eligibility requirements can be regularly revisited and revised.




Approved providers must be able to secure ESA funds quickly and efficiently. Ditto for parents who pay providers out of pocket and need to be reimbursed. Approved providers must be able to secure ESA funds quickly and efficiently. Ditto for parents who pay providers out of pocket and need to be reimbursed. In Florida this spring, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law a number of changes to strengthen Florida’s choice scholarship programs, including new schedules to speed up state funding cycles and new requirements related to reimbursement processes, such as requiring scholarship funding organizations to report to the state quarterly the average number of days for reimbursement review and approval for programs that allow reimbursement options.




Many entrepreneurs face challenges with start-up funding. Some of the providers spotlighted in this paper later received grants from the VELA Education Fund, which has done ground-breaking work assisting education entrepreneurs nationwide. In Indiana, the National Microschooling Center, in conjunction with Mind Trust and EdChoice, is awarding competitive grants (and training) to those wanting to start micro-schools.


Seeding promising à la carte providers would be fruitful, too.


The merry band of education entrepreneurs in South Florida has an audacious analogy for the alternative universe they’re building. They sometimes refer to it as “the South Florida Renaissance,” or “the Broward County Renaissance,” or just simply, “The Renaissance.”


It’s a delightful contrast to the dark rhetoric that opponents of school choice employed 25 years ago. When Florida debated and created its first private school choice program in 1999, opponents predicted choice “will kill public education,”15 Quote from Leon Russell, then chairman of the Florida NAACP. From: Kleindeinst, L. (1999, May 1). Vouchers Ok’d before bell; Florida became the first state to approve vouchers to attend private schools. Critics vow to fight in court. Orlando Sentinel, p. A1. that it was “a bigger threat than any kid walking into a school with a gun,”16 Quote from state Rep. Les Miller, then minority leader in the Florida House. From: Hallifax, J. (1999, May 1). Florida Oks school voucher plan. Associated Press. that it would leave low-performing students “on the garbage heap.”17 Quote from Dorothy Inman-Crews, then head of the Children’s Defense Fund in Tallahassee. From: Kleindeinst, L. (1999, February 4). Critics outline fight on school vouchers; A coalition of groups has nothing good to say about Bush’s plan to help students leave low-performing schools. Orlando Sentinel, p. C6.


Despite those predictions, the sky never fell—even as the growth in Florida’s choice programs accelerated.


In the late 1990s, Florida students ranked No. 27, No. 28, and No. 33 on the four core math and reading tests of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, once adjusted for demo-graphics. (And back then, not every state participated in those tests.) By the most recent iteration of that measure, in 2019, Florida students ranked No. 1, No. 1, No. 3, and No. 8.
18 https://apps.urban.org/features/naep/


Better academic outcomes, though, aren’t even the best part.


Choice unleashed the overlooked brilliance of everyday people to help find solutions to whatever educational challenges they face. All over Florida, parents, teachers, and communities of all stripes have been leveraging choice programs to create their own schools in line with their needs and wants.


The transition from school choice to education choice is just the next phase.


Many parents will continue to seek the best, whole package deal of a school. But if, for whatever reason, they prefer to assemble a more personalized program, they can. Schools, meanwhile, can turn to à la carte providers to supplement core offerings. And teachers and other potential entrepreneurs can look to them to spark new ways of actualizing their visions for teaching and learning.


The à la carte providers in South Florida are just getting started. But they’re already showing us what a world of limitless learning options can look like.


Ron Matus

Ron Matus is Director, Research & Special Projects, at Step Up For Students. He joined Step Up in 2012 after more than 20 years as an award-winning journalist. He can be reached at [email protected].

About the Organizations

Step Up For Students

Step Up For Students is a nonprofit that administers four education choice scholarship programs in Florida: the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship, the Family Empowerment Scholarship, and the New Worlds Scholarship Accounts.