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Room to Grow: Florida Private Schools Have Capacity to Serve More Children

• James Paul and Drew Catt

For two decades, Florida lawmakers have demonstrated a durable commitment to expanding educational opportunity to all children, with an estimated 1.6 million PreK-12 students attending a public or private school of their choice in 2018 – or 47% of the schoolaged population. 

Private choice has been a major part of this dynamic education system. Roughly 150,000 students are enrolled in one of the state’s four private education choice programs – more than a third of all private education choice students in the country. 

To better understand Florida’s schooling landscape, EdChoice and ExcelinEd commissioned a survey of private school leaders in the Sunshine State. The survey explores several critical questions: What are the barriers to enrolling more students? What is the average tuition amount to attend these schools? How many seats are currently available in their schools?  

Unsurprisingly, private school leaders pinpointed the inability of families to pay tuition as the largest barrier to expanding capacity. Yet, half of the private schools in the state charge less than $8,000 per year in combined tuition and fees—far less than is spent per-student in traditional public schools. Additionally, more than 75 percent of private schools provide financial assistance.  

School leaders who responded to the survey identified more than 33,000 available seats. Given that respondent schools comprise roughly one-third of the state’s private school students, a reasonable projection for open seats in Florida’s total private school sector is closer to 96,000.  

What’s more, nearly half of private schools reported plans to substantially expand capacity over the next five years. This would create more than 30,000 additional seats. Notably, 60 percent of respondent schools indicated they would or probably would expand further if a new education choice program were enacted.  

These results are especially important considering a recent Florida voter survey found that respondents overwhelmingly support expanding Education Scholarship Account programs, including to middle-class families. 

Increasing choice in Florida could be a boon for low- and middle-income students. Nationally, private school enrollment has been stubbornly out of reach for low-income families, and access has in fact declined for middle-income families who are finding it increasingly difficult to afford tuition and do not qualify for existing school choice programs. 

This new survey suggests that private schools are ready and able to enroll more students, assuming that parents are empowered with policy tools to help them afford tuition at schools of their choosing. 

About the authors

James Paul

James Paul is an Associate Policy Director who focuses on expanding opportunity through private education choice. In this role, James provides analysis and support to state partners regarding the design and implementation of tax-credit scholarship and education savings account programs. Prior to joining ExcelinEd, James was a Policy Analyst at the Commonwealth Foundation in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, where he worked on a variety of state education issues. James graduated from Syracuse University and resides in the Washington, D.C. area.

Drew Catt

Drew Catt is the Director of State Research and Special Projects. In that role, he conducts geospatial analyses, analyses on private educational choice programs and surveys of private school leaders and parents of school-aged children and conducts geospatial analyses.