The Duval County school board is set to meet Thursday to discuss Superintendent Dr. Nikolai Vitti’s proposal of open enrollment, which would allow families to choose any school in the district they would like to send their children to.
Vitti said right now, if people don’t like their neighborhood school they can send their children to a magnet school, but that only benefits academically or athletically gifted kids. An open enrollment policy would open school selection to everyone else.
Vitti’s proposal could dramatically impact thousands of families that are not happy with their neighborhood schools.
“If boundary students are not satisfied with schools, they're going to charter schools," Vitti said. "I'd much rather say to that parent, ‘You might not be interested in going to boundary school, why not check out this other school that may meet your needs?’”
The proposal is receiving support from school board members like Jason Fischer, who campaigned on school choice.
“Hopefully we'll pass the open enrollment policy and that means next year no kid will be forced into a ‘failure factory,’” said Fischer. “No matter their ZIP code, they will be able to get good education anywhere in city of Jacksonville.”
Under the proposal, Arlington residents, for instance, could apply for their child to go to a school on the Westside if they feel if fits their child better. The only problem is if the school is full, parents would have to choose another.
"As a mom with a teenager getting ready to go to high school, being able to choose a school would be good for me,” said Anita Ramirez, a parent who supports the proposal.
There could, however, be drawbacks to open enrollment, particularly to underperforming schools where many children have already left for the Magnet program.
“Neighborhood schools aren't as bad as some think,” said Alana Tutwiler, another parent of a Duval student. “I can see both sides where it may hurt, but it could also make them do better so they don't lose as many students.”
Vitti’s proposal would include giving higher performing teachers and principals incentives, and transfer them to lower performing schools to make them more competitive under the new system. Vitti will also suggest investing in more technology at low performing schools to give parents an incentive to stay.
A problem with the proposition -- it does not cover transportation, so parent’s transportation options would be limited.
“We're offering a parent an opportunity to use existing bus lines to go to that school,” said Vitti. “But if that doesn't work, they would have to transport themselves.”
Fischer wants the plan to go a step further and fund bussing to go across town. There's no surprise the issue would be the cost.
Thursday's school board committee meeting is scheduled for 9 a.m. and the committee is expected to vote on the plan in early April.