As application deadlines approach, parents and eighth-grade students are scrambling to decide which high school they will attend.
In Manatee County, there are six public high schools for students and their parents to choose from.
They have the freedom to pick which high school they would like to attend because of "school choice." This is an option authorized by Florida Statute Section 1002.02(6).
School Choice allows families to enroll their children into schools other than their zoned school for educational enrichment or if there is a hardship.
It's not as easy as it might sound.
In order to exercise school choice, an application and other paperwork is required, middle school grades must be up to par, no discipline problems should be on record, and it is up to the principal of each school to decide who gets in and who does not.
Manatee High reportedly will accept fewer applicants for the 2014-15 school year. This decision could affect many families.
Last year, 490 students exercised school choice into Manatee High School and only 133 students opted out of the MHS district.
No other high school in Manatee County had as many students exercise school choice and all others had more opting out.
Manatee remains the most desirable high school in the county but 'Cane Nation might diminish in numbers next year.
"Nothing is definite," said Principal Don Sauer.
Sauer said the county is evaluating the entire process of school choice to be sure every student has a fair chance for a good education.
"If I went to my zone school, transportation would be easier and it would be a shorter ride but the education isn't nearly as strong there as at Manatee," said Kylie Ameres, a 10th-grader zoned for Palmetto High.
"We have so much to offer," Sauer said.
One of the most compelling factors is the MHS Medical Academy. No other high school in the county has an academy for students pursuing careers in the medical field.
In addition, the Health Occupations Students of America Club at Manatee is the largest, most active, and most
competitive chapter in the county.
Kylie Ameres said she chose Manatee for the medical academy and is an avid member of HOSA. Last year as a freshman, she placed second in the Regional HOSA Creative Problem Solving competition and went on to compete at the state level.
Other clubs on campus also attract student choices, including three of five executive Student Council Board members.
Two of four class presidents used school choice as did the Z-Club president and Mu Alpha Theta, a competition math club. Examples of notable club leaders who chose to attend MHS are endless.
Manatee also offers elite sports teams. While a student cannot choose Manatee specifically for a sport, many students do become involved in athletics and prosper under experienced coaches. A fewer students are allowed to choose to attend MHS, teams risk losing asset players.
"This won't have an effect. When a kid comes here, they come as a student first. Not an athlete," Sauer said.
Sophomore Alyssa Blastic made the varsity softball team last year as a freshman after choosing to attend MHS. She was a huge component to their 17-9 season.
After hearing Manatee may begin accepting fewer school choice applications, Blastic's first response was concern for future students like her -- not the status of the softball team.
"If I hadn't come to Manatee, I wouldn't have the option of starting my post-secondary education with two years of college credit under my belt," Blastic said.
She came to Manatee first for the Advanced Placement-plus Program and all of the college preparation/credit it offers. Softball was just the icing on the cake, she said.
Other schools such as Lakewood Ranch High also have paths for students to obtain college credit but often require students to travel to other campuses (with their own transportation) like the State College of Florida, which is about half an hour away from LRHS.
School choice has had a positive impact for everyone. It's a win-win.
Students can take advantage of everything Manatee High has to offer and, in return, Manatee receives hundreds of ambitious students ready to excel in every aspect of high school.