9 Investigates: More Orange County parents opt for charter schools

9 Investigates: More Orange County parents opt for charter schools

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — Students are fleeing Orange County schools, some of which have gone through expensive renovations with your tax money.

9 Investigates reporter Daralene Jones discovered many parents are opting to send their child to one of the 35 charter schools in the county.

Some of them, including the Orlando Science Charter School, have waiting lists.

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The A-rated charter school is not easy to get into through the lottery-based system.

“This year, we were able to open another building, so we were able to get another 500 into our building. Now we're at about 1,000 on our waitlist,” said Orlando Science schools spokesperson Becc Lester.

9 Investigates obtained copies of what the Orange County School District calls its “Gain-Loss Report" for the last three school years.

The reports breaks down exactly why students zoned for Orange County schools aren't attending their home school.

They're choosing to learn at home and attend magnet programs in other neighborhoods, but the number one reason is charter schools.

More than 5,000 Orange County students have consistently chosen charters in the last three years.

Two parents of Orlando Science students said their home is zoned for Colonial High School—a C-rated school for the last four years.

“The main concern we had was the big number. A high school, for example, with 4,000 kids. So even if your kid is good, they can very easily get lost,” said a parent.

Parent Sheryl Dorman said the charter schools had better options to prepare her child for college.

“At Colonial (high) we can do the Cambridge program, which is phenomenal for getting into colleges, but here we had a huge AP offering,” Dorman said.

Charter schools have the flexibility of specializing in certain subject matters and curriculums, and can sometimes offer smaller class sizes. Parents said it's like getting a free private school education.

The shifts in enrollment can force traditional public schools to shuffle things around.

“If a school lost a significant number of students at one time to a school that maybe recently opened, that could cause some issues for staffing levels,” said Scott Howat of Orange County Public Schools.

A majority of the schools that are losing the most zoned students received low marks on state tests at least once in a time period.

Apopka High School, Colonial High School, Edgewater High School, Evans High School, Jones High School, Ocoee High School, Wekiva High School, Carver Middle School and Union Park Elementary School are among them.

All of them have gone through either comprehensive renovation or have been replaced.

Howat said he hopes newer facilities and technologies would encourage parents to keep their child enrolled in a school.

“(We want to) encourage them to come back, so that's been a big part of our building program,” he said.

A building program that stands to generate $260 million in the next year through the half-cent sales tax.

Some fear charter schools are taking away from traditional public schools. 
"I look at it like we're all on the same team. At the end of the day, the most important thing is the kids," said Lester.

Orange County officials said that even as students choose not to attend their schools, they're being replaced by new students at the rate of about 5,000 per year.

It's the 10th-largest school district in the country, with 212,000 students, and if charter schools didn’t exist, there might be a capacity problem.