One goal of robust school choice programs is to broaden quality education alternatives. A new report brings evidence that this is happening in Florida, where Catholic PreK-12 schools are defying national trends.
Of the 10 states with the highest Catholic school enrollment, Florida is the only one where Catholic school enrollment has grown over the past decade. It’s a modest 4.4%, or 3,644 students, but compare that to New York and New Jersey, where enrollment dropped by more than 30%. Pennsylvania saw a 25% loss. The report comes from Step Up for Students, a nonprofit that administers Florida’s K-12 scholarships.
The Sunshine State’s population growth may have something to do with it, the report acknowledges. But other states showed larger declines in Catholic school enrollment than in the number of school-age children, so other factors seem to be at play. A big one is the state’s private school scholarships.
Florida has offered publicly funded scholarships since 2001 and has expanded eligibility over the years. “As a share of total enrollment, the percentage of choice scholarship students in Florida Catholic schools has risen from 16.3 percent to 46.6 percent” from 2012-13 to 2022-23, says the report.
This year the Legislature passed a bill to open the scholarships to all students regardless of income, so this percentage will likely grow as parents take advantage of the program to afford tuition at Catholic school.