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Study: 50% in Duval don't go to neighborhood middle school

Numbers of students who choose charter schools increase dramatically

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Nearly half of the elementary students in Duval County over the last five years chose not to go to the middle school in their neighborhood zone, according to the Jacksonville Public Education Fund.

Results from a five-year study also show a dramatic increase in the number of students choosing to go to a charter or magnet school instead.

In 2009, only about 1.6 percent of students were enrolled in charter schools. That number has jumped to 7.1 percent in 2014.

According to the study, 78.3 percent of students were enrolled in public schools in 2009. That number gradually went up, but then fell back to the same percentage in 2014.

The Fund believes the shift stems from parents' desire for a more customized school environment for their children. That also means public schools have had to get more competitive with charter schools.

The Fund says the shift has hurt public schools.

The study shows that last school year, Duval County Public Schools reported a $51 million loss, because fewer students equals less money coming into the district. The district said that's all because of the increase in charter schools.

Choosing a middle or high school in Duval County is typically a difficult decision for parents.

"Choice is exploding around parents, and they want to understand what those options are and how they can better address those," said Fund president Trey Csar.

According to the study, the top two factors parents are looking for in a school are the quality of teachers and staff and safety.

"We examined more than 200,000 student data records over the last five years, taking a look at when and where students and families made different choice options," Csar said. "We also interviewed more than a 1,000 community members and parents about what was going on in their heads as they made those choices."

In Duval County, 43 percent of fifth graders do not transition into their zoned middle school, and 47 percent of eighth graders don't transition to their zoned high school. Sixty-five percent of the fifth graders end up at magnet schools, while 22 percent end up at charter schools, a number that has continued to grow over the last five years.

"We see public schools have had to get a lot more competitive," Csar said. "They've had to think like a choice option and think about what are those types of specialized programs that they can offer.

"We hear from parents; there's a desire for a more personalized education options. If my young person is interested in the arts, I want a school that can cater to that. If they're interested in science and tech. I want a school that can cater to that. I think it's really this desire across society for more customization in what we participate in."

The Fund will hold a webinar at 7:30 p.m. Monday for parents interested in learning more about the study and more about the schools in the district. For more information, go to www.jaxpef.org/schoolchoice.