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School Choice – What it Means for Developers and Builders

The adage and number one rule in real estate is “location, location, location.” While it’s true that identical homes can increase or decrease in value due to location, public school districts are a key factor that causes property valuations to fluctuate from one area to the next.

When developers scout a potential site, or buyers search for a new home, school zones are a top priority in the search criteria. While proximity to work and entertainment are positive attributes, if the property lacks quality public schools, it’s often the first to go from a buyer’s list. This is especially true for cash stressed buyers who cannot afford the cost of private tuition.

School choice is changing this landscape. Currently 32 states offer some type of school choice program which affords all parents the ability to choose the school or learning environment that best meets their child’s needs, regardless of whether it’s public or private. A common model is for a state to allow taxpayer funds in the form of vouchers to be used toward tuition at private schools, or to pay for other school-related expenses such as transportation to a public-schoolthat’s outside of the student’s district. This year alone, Arkansas, Florida, Indiana, Iowa, Oklahoma, and Utah enacted legislation that created or expanded private school choice programs. They join Arizona and West Viriginia in allowing students the use of public funds to“follow the child.” That is, parents and students are no longer bound to neighborhood public schools as their only option.

As more states abandon the traditional school model and allow parents the flexibility to direct public education funds to an array of educational opportunities, developers and home buyers are no longer constrained by the boundaries of public-school districts. A prime example is the “Scholarships for Florida” law that took effect on July 1, 2023.

The bill removes income restrictions and enrollments limits which essentially allows any Florida household with a school aged child to receive a school voucher containing the amount that their local public school would have received if they had attended. Implementing the “follow the child” principle, Florida students can use the voucher to pay for private schooling, homeschooling, or other school-related costs. As a result, public school districts are much less significant for would be developers and home buyers. Is the perfect development site or the home of your dreams in a failing school district? Given Florida’s new law, that site or home warrants a second look.

School choice is likely here to stay. As this seismic shift occurs throughout our public education system, the reverberating effects are transforming the home building and development industry.

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