One size does not fit all. That’s why Florida’s K-12 system offers robust school-choice offerings. Lakeland and Polk County feature dozens of traditional public, magnet, charter, private and virtual options for all students. Before making your selection, make sure to read through this list of all available options to Lakeland parents.
Polk County Public Schools (www.polkschoolsfl.org)
All of Lakeland’s traditional public schools are operated by Polk County Public Schools (PCPS), one of Florida’s 67 county-wide public school districts and the seventh-largest in Florida, serving more than 106,000 students. In addition to offering neighborhood public schools, PCPS offers a myriad of quality magnet, career and technical options to appeal to the needs and interests of all students. Visit polkschoolsfl.com/enroll to learn enrollment requirements and which neighborhood public school(s) to which your child is zoned.
Polk County Public Magnet Schools
PCPS offers popular and high-quality magnet programs and schools to students across Polk County. Example magnet programs include science and technology, International Baccalaureate Programme, fine arts, and much more. Some programs are offered to all Polk County students, while others are offered to students from specific regions of the county. To learn which magnet schools and programs are offered for Lakeland-area students, visit www.polkschools.org/magnetchoice.
Polk County Public Schools Career Academies
PCPS’ middle and high school career academies equip students with 21st-century job skills and prepare students for career in high-demand fields, such as aerospace, engineering, health care, insurance, law, veterinary science, and much more. The best way to find out which academies are offered at Lakeland-area middle and high schools is to visit each school’s website. To learn more about all of Polk’s nationally-accredited career academies, which schools offer them and how your child can enroll, visit www.polkschools.org/careeracademies.
Public Open Enrollment
PCPS also allows students to enroll in a school for which they are not zoned on a space-available basis. This process is known as "controlled open enrollment." Contact the district for a list of which schools accept open enrollment students. All choice options have specific application windows in the fall, typically ending in mid-December. Visit polkschoolsfl.com/transfer for more information.
Public Charter Schools
Charter schools are tuition-free public schools which are operated independently of the local school district. Polk’s charter schools serve about 12 percent of all public school students county-wide and offer parents public alternatives to district public schools. Charter schools must have certified teachers, teach to state standards, give state standardized tests, and, if large enough, receive school grades from the Florida Department of Education. They have no attendance zones and can accept a student from anywhere in Polk County; however, all students must apply to attend, and if the school is full, they are accepted as part of a lottery admissions process. Lakeland’s largest and most popular charter school provider is The Schools of McKeel Academy; however, there are other high-quality charter schools with unique focuses, such as full-time dual enrollment, Montessori, students with special needs, at-risk middle and high school students, and many others. You can view a full listing of Polk County charter schools by visiting polkschoolsfl.com/schoollistings, followed by selecting the “Charter” button under school type. Contact each school individually to learn about how to apply or enroll.
Lakeland and greater Polk County have a number of high-quality private schools ranging in size and educational emphasis, from religious education, to college preparatory, to specialized services for students with dyslexia. The Florida Department of Education provides a full directory of all private schools by county and which, if any, state private school choice scholarships each school accepts. Visit floridaschoolchoice.org/information/privateschooldirectory to view the complete directory of private schools.
Florida Private School Choice Scholarships for Low-Income, Special Needs and Bullied Students
As of 2020, the state of Florida provides more than 150,000 scholarships for select Florida students to attend private school. The largest two of these programs, Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program, serves income-eligible students, and McKay Scholarships serve students with disabilities. Gardiner Scholarships are education savings account funds for students with more severe disabilities and special needs, starting at age 3. To learn more about all private school choice scholarships in Florida, and their eligibility criteria, visit fldoe.org/schools/school-choice.
Both PCPS and the state of Florida offer full- and part-time virtual schooling options to all Florida school-aged students. Homeschool students may also enroll in virtual education full or part-time. PCPS offers Polk Virtual School, and Florida Virtual School is a statewide K-12 virtual school not tied to a specific school district. Visit pvs.polkschoolsfl.com for Polk Virtual School and www.flvs.org for more information on Florida Virtual School.
Should you wish to homeschool your child, the state of Florida requires that you notify your local school district of your decision. In addition, your child can still participate in brick-and-mortar public school classes, extracurricular activities, virtual education and/or dual enrollment at the local community college on a part-time basis. Visit www.polkschoolsfl.com/homeeducation to view policies and procedures, and review state of Florida laws and requirements pertaining to home education.