In recent years, calls for school choice have grown louder. Many parents have grown weary of their local public school. The failure of many public systems to educate students through the pandemic and the implementation of policies that leave parents in the dark have left many families exasperated with public education and in search of alternatives. 

Most people are familiar with the benefits that school choice brings, as educational freedom experts have been touting its advantages for years. At its root, education freedom empowers students and parents by allowing them to dictate their educational choices. The introduction of choice holds schools accountable and encourages improved services, as schools must now serve students well or risk losing them. 

Improved education is not the only benefit of school choice. The Heritage Foundation reports that school choice increases parental satisfaction and involvement, provides better options for low-income students, and leads to higher graduation rates, among many other benefits. While all of this is good in theory, parents want to know whether school choice generates these benefits when it is put into practice. 

A recent report by Step Up for Students, a nonprofit organization that administers scholarship programs for Florida’s K-12 students, outlines how Florida Catholic schools are experiencing a renewal. Over the past decade, enrollment in Florida Catholic schools increased, while Catholic school enrollment in other states decreased. As the authors note, Florida’s robust school choice programs have played a central role in expanding educational opportunities to all students. 

Because of its broad school choice programs, Florida has one of the most competitive education sectors in the country. Does this competitive environment benefit students? The example of Florida’s Catholic schools provides compelling evidence in favor of school choice. 

With the expansion of school choice in Florida, Catholic school enrollment has increased. Importantly, many different demographics have contributed to this expansion. The report details that Florida Catholic schools now have more students of color than the state’s public school system. Additionally, the report highlights how “Florida Catholic schools are also seeing significant growth in the number and percentage of students with special needs, and of students who are non-Catholic.” 

The “Catholic school advantage”—which is the strong educational legacy of Catholic schools—draws many to the halls of Catholic schools. This legacy continues to hold true today, as the report notes how “low-income students attending Florida Catholic schools are outperforming their peers in non-Catholic schools, with bigger annual learning gains in reading and math.” This is especially important in the post-covid world, where achievement gaps (particularly between students of color and white students) have widened in the public schools

Not only is the population of Catholic schools more diverse, but the landscape of Catholic school options has diversified. Knowing parents in Florida now have a variety of educational options for their children, Catholic schools have implemented unique and impactful programs to draw students to their doors. International Baccalaureate programs, classical education, STREAM programs, and many other special programs are now the norm at many Florida Catholic schools. Education freedom spurred innovation at Catholic schools, which has provided students with a diverse field of options from which to choose a school that best meets their needs. 

This report details the dynamism of Florida Catholic schools, which was sparked by Florida’s broad school choice programs. With educational freedom, diverse populations—with diverse needs—have found their desires met at Catholic schools. This report on Catholic schools in Florida provides strong evidence that school choice benefits all students not just in theory, but also in practice.