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Wednesday, May 25, 2016  
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Orlando REALTOR® | MayJune 2016

Rules and limits mean REALTORS® must take caution when communicating Florida's new school choice law to clients

Florida has a new school choice law (CS/CS/HB 7029) that allows students to attend any school they wish subject to a set of rules. The law goes into effect July 1, 2016.
A full 50 percent of buyers with children younger than 18 considered the quality of local schools an important consideration, according to the National Association of REALTORS® 2015 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers.

"It's vitally important for buyers to understand that 'school choice' isn't a sure thing," explains Margy Grant, Florida REALTORS® vice president and general counsel. "There are rules. A buyer's child may or may not be allowed to attend a specific school — and even if they can, the parents may later find out acceptance to a middle school doesn't lead to automatic acceptance into the area's high school."

"REALTORS® must not tell buyers that their children can attend a different school thanks to the new law; all school district information should come directly from local records," recommends Grant. "As always, REALTORS® should be the informational 'source of the source' to help buyers uncover the information they need to find their perfect home."

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David Harrison, Ph.D., professor and Howard Phillips Eminent Scholar Chair in Real Estate at the University of Central Florida, shared his thoughts about Florida’s new school choice law with Orlando REALTOR® magazine.

ORLANDO REALTOR® magazine: What impact could the new law have on a neighborhood districted for an A-rated school?

David Harrison: Neighborhoods with highly rated schools are likely to see reduced demand, resulting in fewer sales and modest downward pressure on housing values as families wanting to attend the school are no longer forced to live in the neighborhood to gain admission. While these effects are potentially bad news for property owners in neighborhoods with good schools, the magnitude of these effects should be limited. For example, the regulations give schools the ability to limit in-transfers due to capacity limitations. As such, we’re unlikely to see suburban school over-crowding as a result of this initiative.

Additionally, highly rated districts may well benefit from the influx of new students along multiple dimensions. While research suggests academic test scores are one big driving factor in demand, parents willing to commit the time and resources to transport their students across town to a better school likely exhibit an engagement mentality that is correlated with success. These students and families promise to bring a wealth of experiences and abilities to their new schools that should further enhance not only existing academic programs but also co-curricular activities such as fine arts and athletic programs.

OR: What impact could the new law have on a neighborhood districted for a low-rated school?

DH: Conversely, neighborhoods with poorly rated schools may benefit from school choice as parents are no longer forced to send their children to the local school.

Some of these effects are likely to be quite modest, since many neighborhoods with failing, low-rated schools already have access to existing programs allowing them to opt out of their local school district. For example, the existing Opportunity Scholarship Program already targets students in the worst-performing districts and gives them an opportunity to attend better-performing schools.

Even families that do not exercise the choice to leave the district for a higher-rated school may benefit, as the existing school may wind up with lower student/faculty ratios.

OR: How will the new law impact millennial and other first-time homebuyers?

DH: The new law promises to be a valuable option for buyers across the spectrum, as their choice of housing is now decoupled from their decision of where to send the kids to school.

Many millennials who enjoy living in urban areas may elect to send their children to suburban schools. Dual-career families may select schools that are convenient to either parents' work location. First-time homebuyers who value education no longer have the same pressure to overextend their budget to buy a house in the A-rated district. They can buy a more affordable house in a different neighborhood and still send their kids to the school of their choice.

OR: Do you foresee any potential concerns resulting from the new law?

DH: I wonder whether, as parents are responsible for providing transportation to alternative schools, the “poorest of the poor” will really be able to take advantage of the new law. I also wonder if school choice will create a possible issue with recruiting in respect to high school athletics.

Rules for Florida's School Choice Program

• Beginning with the 2017-2018 school year, a parent whose child isn't subject to a current expulsion or suspension order may seek enrollment in any public school in the state, including a charter school, providing that school is not operating at full student capacity.

• Parents must provide transportation for any student attending a school outside of his or her district, though the chosen school "may provide student transportation at their discretion."

• When schools determine "capacity," they must include "specifications, plans, elements, and commitments contained in the district's educational facilities plan and required long-term work programs." In other words, a school may not accept new students simply because a few classes have unoccupied desks.

• Certain students take precedence over other students in an open enrollment process, including dependent children of active duty military personnel who moved as a result of military orders; children relocated due to foster care placement in a different school zone; children relocated due to a court ordered change in custody as a result of separation or divorce, or the serious illness or death of a parent; and students residing in the school district.

• Charter schools may provide preferential treatment in the controlled open enrollment process to the enrollment limitations consistent with law and its charter contract. The charter school must post the application process on its website.

• Students residing in the school district may not be displaced by a student from another district. In Florida, school districts tend to be operated at a countywide level.

• A student who transfers may remain at a school until he or she completes the highest grade level offered. An out-of-district student accepted into an elementary school, for example, may remain at that elementary school until he or she completes all grades. However, continuation at that district's middle school isn't guaranteed.

• Each district school board must post the open enrollment application process on its website as required to participate in controlled open enrollment. In addition, it must maintain existing academic eligibility criteria, identify schools that have not reached capacity and ensure that each school board adopts a policy of preferential treatment.

Source: Florida REALTORS®


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