Pensacola, Florida
Thursday October 17th 2019

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Outtakes—School Competition

By Rick Outzen

Thanks to public records supplied by the Escambia County School District, Inweekly found that the district’s enrollment is down 977 students in its traditional schools from its fall enrollment a year ago. The drop is the most significant single-year decline in enrollment over the past 15 years, maybe in the history of Escambia County public schools.

School Superintendent Malcolm Thomas blamed the drop on school vouchers when the News Journal interviewed him. If true, the steep decline is a strong indicator of the lack of confidence parents have in the quality of Escambia County’s public schools.

The biggest loss is in elementary schools—down 1,149 students. Only four elementary schools have more students than last year—Blue Angel up 37 pupils, Pine Meadow up 48, Scenic Heights up 1 and Kingsfield up 132.

When he spoke to the Panhandle Tiger Bay Club last month, Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran said that the state’s grading system creates accountability and competition.

“And when we measured, guess what you find out in two seconds? Every single parent cares about the outcome and the education that they’re taught,” said Corcoran. “As soon as they had some awareness, some transparency, some knowledge and they could move with their feet, they did, and education started changing.”

If Thomas’ voucher explanation is valid, Escambia parents took advantage of school choice and moved their children out of public schools. However, will the drop in enrollment spur any change in the district, as Corcoran predicted? Or will the exodus continue as more charter and private schools accept school vouchers?

What is surprising is Escambia parents aren’t moving their children to higher-performing public elementary schools in the school district. The eight “A” elementary schools are down a combined 294 students; only Blue Angel had an increase.

Jim Allen Elementary, a “B” school, lost 100 students. The district’s four lowest-performing schools each lost fewer pupils than Jim Allen—Bellview (-38), Warrington (-82), Holm (-30) and Global Learning Academy (-70).

The top middle school, Brown-Barge, is down 42 students, losing only eight fewer pupils than the ninth lowest-performing middle school in the state, Workman Middle (-50). The second worst middle school in the district, Warrington, is up 14 students, while two higher-performing middle schools are down—Ferry Pass (-80) and Jim Bailey (-85).

The highest-performing high school, West Florida Tech, is down 53 students, while the lowest performer, Pine Forest, is up 97 students.

Using Commissioner Corcoran’s reasoning, students should be flocking to the higher-performing schools. Why aren’t they?

Do parents know their school’s grades? Do they know about school choice? Is the lack of transportation forcing them to keep their kids in low-performing schools?

Maybe Commissioner Corcoran should investigate.