Enrollment in Catholic schools is booming in Florida at a time when half of the state’s K-12 students are being educated in a school other than their zip code-assigned public school.
A report from Step Up For Students found that Florida Catholic education has gained over 3,500 students in the past ten years – the largest increase in any state. Further, the number of students using state-funded scholarships to attend Catholic schools has tripled from 14,000 to 41,000 in the last decade.
Step Up funds and manages school choice scholarships for Florida students. Director of Research Ron Matus told The Lion he expects Step Up to grant over 350,000 scholarships this year alone.
The organization’s latest report focuses specifically on the growth of Catholic schools.
“Millions of parents across America have long valued Catholic education, and the parents of Florida are no exception,” Matus says. “The difference is, in Florida growing numbers of parents have been empowered to truly access the education they want in a way that, sadly, most of their counterparts in other states still cannot.”
Florida’s Catholic schools also enroll as many minority students as public schools – 65% vs. 64.7% – and have seen a substantial increase in special needs students (163%) and non-Catholic students (57%).
Matus also credits the rising enrollment to innovation in the classroom.
“[Catholic schools] have been creative in offering innovative features on top of the high-quality core academics and faith-based education they’ve always excelled at, whether it’s a classical curriculum, an International Baccalaureate program, a dual language immersion program, a high-quality virtual component, or all kinds of other excellent programs that have made them even more attractive to families across the state,” says Matus.
The enrollment growth is particularly astonishing as Florida is only 21st in the nation for its overall Catholic population.
Private Catholic schools nationwide outperformed public schools in 2022, and Step Up reports that includes low-income Catholic school students.
Florida has offered school choice programs for a number of years, and it was one of several states to recently expand its programs.
Ohio, for example, received over 66,000 applications for its recently expanded voucher program, and other states – such as Indiana and Arizona – are also serving tens of thousands of students each with their new programs.
“We see no reason why Catholic schools in those states can’t get traction and begin to grow and flourish again just like the Catholic schools in Florida,” Matus told The Lion.