Half of Duval County students take advantage of school choice

by: Jenna Bourne, Action News Jax Updated:

New numbers Action News Jax got from the school district show half of all students in Duval County Public Schools are using school choice in some way.

For some students, it’s a special transfer to a school they feel is a better fit.

Others are going to charter schools.

About a third of Duval County students who take advantage of school choice are enrolled in magnet schools, which revolve around a theme, such as fine arts or engineering.

Trey Csar’s son just started his first day of first grade at a dual-language magnet school, where he learns in both English and Spanish.

“We sent him to our neighborhood school that happens to have a magnet program. I have friends who send their students to an elementary school fine arts program, even though they’re zoned for one of the best schools in the county,” said Csar.

The Duval County father is also the president of the Jacksonville Public Education Fund, and he says local parents have developed a taste for customization.

Sharwonda Peek, the Duval County Public Schools assistant superintendent of school choice, said the district wants to deliver.

“Over the past few years, we have added additional magnet programs to our plethora of options, from about 63 to, currently, 71,” said Peek.

This data tracks how interest in DCPS magnet schools has changed over the past several school years:

Duval County students enrolled in magnet schools:

Data from DCPS
2009-2010:          21,449
2010-2011:          20,106
2011-2012:          19,772
2013-2014:          20,112
2014-2015:          33,141
2015-2016:          24,998
2016-2017:          23,377

The number of students enrolled in Duval County magnet schools remained relatively steady from the 2009-2010 school year to the 2013-2014 school year.

Enrollment peaked at 33,141 students in the 2014-2015 school year.

The next two years saw a drop-off, when Florida law began allowing students to choose their own school regardless of whether it had a magnet program.

“Just like we may customize our clothing online or our food at a restaurant, parents want to be able to find a program that best meets the needs of their children,” said Csar.

This is the first school year that the St. Johns County School District has allowed students from outside the district to enroll through school choice. Out of the 88 students St. Johns County allowed to transfer in from outside, about half -- 46 students -- are from Duval County.