Historically speaking, Florida has long suffered from systemic issues in its education system. Poverty is linked to a number of issues affecting Florida teens, and teen pregnancy has long been a problem in the state, especially within some of its less privileged counties. However, within the past few years, Florida has experienced a rising high school graduation rate. In 2018, Florida saw its highest-ever graduation rate, hitting 86.9%. Duval County public schools, in particular, reported an all-time high in their graduation rates, with specifically 86.5% of the district’s high school seniors graduating. This is remarkable, not merely due to the improvement, but the further opportunities that improvement creates for young people in Florida. Thanks to the state’s Bright Futures program, tuition at public universities is often more affordable than it would be in neighboring states, and therefore further education is relatively attainable for many of these graduates. This will allow these students to earn their degrees, and open up a new job market for themselves.

But why are Florida’s public schools experiencing an uptick in graduation rates? Some may speculate that it is a case of higher expectations for students, or perhaps conversely easier classes. With that being said, there are many factors that contribute to these results, and some may be more obvious than others.

Preschool: Starting Off Strong

Preschool is not required for young children. However, it is becoming more attainable in many areas, and it often offers children a stronger start. Working parents typically need some degree of childcare, which can be provided by daycares or babysitters — but if possible, children should ideally be enrolled in preschool, where they’ll begin their academic educations a bit early. In fact, three individual studies showed that 80% of children enrolled in preschool out-performed their peers that were not enrolled in preschool. This can often extend beyond early education. Essentially, preschool begins the academic careers of children, providing them with something that they can build upon over time. For that matter, there are other benefits to enrolling your child in preschool. They not only will begin their academic educations, but their social educations as well. Social experiences from a young age allow children to feel more confident about playing with their peers and beginning school in earnest. It’s important to keep in mind that there is funding available for low-income households, which can often make preschool more attainable.

Private School Options: Are They Raising The Bar?

Private schools can be a somewhat controversial topic for some, as they are sometimes seen as unattainable for many. While it is true that private schools can sometimes require expensive tuition, others are much more affordable — and they can often offer better graduation odds, and education standards, than public schools. Florida public schools vary wildly in quality. Therefore, many parents in lower-performing public school districts opt to enroll their children in private schools. Private schools can encompass many different focuses. Some are purely academic, while others are more based in religion, though many of the latter still accept secular students and offer excellent educational values. For example, an estimated 99% of Catholic high school students graduate from high school. For some, a private school may still seem to be unattainable. However, there are scholarships available for individual students, which should be explored before the idea is abandoned entirely. Otherwise, there are also alternative options which benefit students in poor public school districts similarly. These include charter schools — which exist as something of a middle ground between public and private school — as well as tutoring and homeschooling.

Fighting Truancy: The Key To Graduation

One of the main reasons why children fail to graduate from high school is that they have exceeded the allowed amount of absences, or were absent enough to let their schooling fall to the wayside. Florida public schools have been making a concentrated effort to fighting truancy issues, pursuing and following up with students that have been conspicuously absent more often than would be expected. Nonetheless, punishment or follow up does not prevent the absences from occurring or recurring. While some children purposefully skip school because they don’t wish to go, many would like to attend school but suffer from issues that affect their ability to do so. Due to poverty and insurance issues, lots of children become sick and do not have their health issues properly attended to. This means that they miss more school, even if the initial illness was not overly serious. According to the Center for Health and Health Care in Schools, 51 million school hours are lost every year, specifically due to dental-related illnesses alone. It’s important that teachers report these kinds of issues when they suspect that they are occurring, so that social services can step in and ensure that the children receive proper healthcare. Fortunately, social welfare programs, as well as urgent care centers, make healthcare more attainable for lower-income families — often the issue is more one of a lack of education on such programs. Once parents are aware that they can take advantage of them, they are more likely to ensure that their children receive prompt care, rather than putting it off. Other programs, like busing and aftercare, makes it easier for children to attend school even when their parents are too busy working to tend to a strict school schedule.

Many issues affect an area’s graduation rate. It is crucial that children are able to access quality educational opportunities. As Florida has made its own opportunities more accessible, the results have proven the benefits of investing in the future.

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