Deadline approaches for Manatee's "School Choice" program

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MANATEE COUNTY, Fla.- It's time for some Manatee County students to start thinking about what high school they will attend under the School Choice program.

“School choice has been the best decision academically,” said Heather McGuire.

Heather McGuire is now a senior at Manatee High School. She says she made the choice to enroll 4 years ago, and that decision has drastically changed her life.

I think if I went to my zoned school, I just would have so much more limitations as far as academics, extracurriculars, sports. I mean, almost every aspect,” says McGuire.

Manatee County allows students to attend schools outside of their zone whether it be elementary, middle, or high school. A parent can apply for the program during the specified enrollment period for the coming school year. The applications are then considered based on the school's capacity, distance from the students current zone and other race-neutral factors.

“I've even, just from my friends, I've learned such a better work ethic than what I had in middle school with a different set of students. And it's really just prepared me more for what I'm going to do post-secondary education,” said McGuire.

But McGuire and others are worried possible changes to the program could prevent future students from getting the same opportunities.

“That's just kind of a rumor around the county as a whole, and then it dwindles down to the teachers, and they just have been talking about it,” said McGuire.

However, the Director of Communications for the school district, says there are no changes coming to the school choice program other than an effort to increase access to it.

“The only major change is the date change, which is going to coincide with the school information fair being held on January 27th in 2014. They'll actually be able to apply for school choice at the event,” said Steve Valley, Director of Communications for Manatee School District.

The district tells us that nearly 40% of students throughout the district take advantage of the School Choice program, and they hope to maintain those numbers for the coming school year.

Open enrollment will begin January 28, 2014 and end February 7, 2014.