Florida, already an education reform leader, took further steps this week to expand educational opportunity and provide more school choice for families.

Governor Rick Scott (R), who on Monday signed five bills to broaden educational opportunities for K–12 students, remarked: “Everything we can do to encourage more choice, we should be doing it.”

And Governor Scott is serious about expanding options. According to the Orlando Sentinel, Scott’s bills increase students’ options in a variety of ways, providing more choice between charter, public, virtual, and private schools.

Charter School Choice. High-performing charter schools will now be able to “increase their enrollment by adding additional grades or opening additional branches without the local school board’s approval.” Currently, there are more than 30,000 students on waiting lists for the top-performing Florida charter schools.

Public School Choice. Previously, students attending a failing public school—one which received an “F” grade for two of the four previous years—could transfer to a higher-performing public school. Now, if a student’s school receives a “D” or “F” grade in the previous year, he or she will be able to transfer to a higher-performing public school.

Virtual School Choice. The Florida Virtual School, the nation’s largest online school, will now be able to offer courses for elementary school children, whereas courses were previously limited to middle and high school students.

Private School Choice. The new laws expand private school choice for special-needs students via the state’s McKay Scholarship program. The scholarships, currently limited to children “in the state’s exceptional-education program,” will now be open to students with “504 plans,” or students who have a disability but generally not one that requires the same level of intervention.

The legislation broadens private school choice for low-income students. Corporations that contribute to Florida’s Tax-Credit Scholarship Program—which allows businesses to receive a tax deduction for donations toward private school scholarships for low-income students—will now be able to receive a deduction for up to 100 percent (previously set at 75 percent) “of their state income tax liability.” Encouraging more corporations to participate means more scholarships for more students.

Since Florida implemented a series of education reforms more than 10 years ago to expand school choice, student scores have increased significantly, and the achievement gap between minority and white students is narrowing.

Today, many more states are putting policies similar to Florida’s into place to ensure that parents can choose the school that best meets their child’s needs. As the school choice tide continues to swell, more students and families around the nation will have the power to make the best choices for their children’s academic futures. Florida is once again leading the way, and students in the Sunshine State are the beneficiaries.

Learn more about the exciting school choice advances across the country in 2011 at Heritage’s Choices in Education page.