Microschools Gain Popularity as School Choice Grows in Florida
As school choice continues to gain momentum in Florida’s education system, microschools are emerging as a favored option for students to have control over their learning experience.
Located within a church on Florida’s west coast, a small group of kindergarten students begin their day by engaging in Spanish reading and singing, guided by two teachers. This unique approach to microlearning is the brainchild of founder Linda Rozo, who was inspired by her goddaughter’s educational journey.
Rozo, with her master’s degree in education, initially opened a preschool and decided to expand by establishing her first microschool when her goddaughter entered kindergarten this year. Microschools are part of the growing movement of non-traditional schools, known for their emphasis on student-led learning, smaller class sizes, and minimal testing and homework.
Rozo explains, “For us, it’s all about connection. Our children need more personal interaction than what they receive in traditional settings where one teacher handles a large class of 20 or 30 students.”
Similarly, Heather Howell, the founder of another microschool on Florida’s west coast, opened her school in her garage as a passion project during the pandemic. Today, she operates her school in a rented space at a local church, employs three teachers, and has enrolled 15 students aged four to 11.
Howell believes that the popularity of microschools stems from the desire for a more personalized and community-oriented approach to education. “We are realizing the importance of having a village and educating our children in a way that aligns with our values,” she said.
While the exact number of microschools in Florida is unknown, Candace Lehenbauer, who homeschooled her six children, founded Microschool Florida to connect families seeking non-traditional education options. Her list of microschools in Florida has already surpassed 200 and continues to grow.
Lehenbauer attributes this growing interest to the increased involvement and communication that parents have in microschools compared to traditional schools. “Parents have a greater say in their child’s education. They receive regular updates and are actively involved in their journey,” she explained.
In a state where the battle for parental rights has sparked cultural conflicts, political campaigns, and new legislation, microschools are making a significant impact. Their influence is expected to expand further as the state provides financial support and approves microschools to receive public funding through Florida’s universal school voucher program.
Tuition fees for microschools vary, with Howell charging just under $1,000 per month and Rozo’s school costing around $1,500 per month. The availability of state vouchers has made it more accessible for families to enroll their children in these schools.
However, critics raise concerns about the lack of oversight in publicly funded microschools, highlighting the need for more checks and balances. Damaris Allen, executive director of Families for Strong Public Schools, emphasizes the extensive regulations in place for public schools to ensure a quality education, such as certified teachers and educational standards, which are not required in private schools or microschools.
Despite these concerns, Shayla Hightower, a teacher who transitioned from a traditional school to Rozo’s microschool, praises the positive impact microschools have on educators and the education system. Hightower, although not certified, holds a childhood development associate credential and believes that Rozo’s approach addresses the challenges she faced in traditional classrooms, such as burnout and limited time for individualized attention.
For parents like Linawa Shaffer, who recently enrolled her children in a microschool after homeschooling, these small-scale schools offer what public schools often cannot. Shaffer expresses frustration with the traditional school system’s failure to meet the unique needs of each child. She believes that microschools are filling this void and providing a more tailored educational experience.
As microschools gain momentum in Florida, the impact on the Sunshine State’s education landscape is undeniable. With the state’s endorsement and financial support, these innovative schools are empowering parents and students to choose an education that aligns with their values and aspirations.