Much debate has been had on the value of charter schools and whether they help, or hurt, public education. But during the battle of charter schools (and vouchers for that matter) one thing has been hiding inconspicuously in the background: magnet schools.

Magnet schools were introduced in the 1960s as answer to school segregation and educational inequality. The provide a “themed” education, focusing on skills and interest such as art, science and technology and giving students educational experiences not found in typical public schools. Educators hoped that magnet programs would curb white flight while giving racial minorities opportunities not usually found in the low-income schools they attended.

Those goals were never met, and since the turn of the century magnet schools were pushed far into the background, making way for charter schools to take front and center. Like charter schools, magnets are part of the public education system, yet unlike charters they are taught by unionized teachers and funded through the government.

During the last few years magnet schools have seen an increase in popularity, especially in multi-cultural cities like Miami, where close to three-quarters of school aged children qualify for free or reduced-price lunches and two-thirds are Hispanic. Supporters believe that attending classes that reflect one’s interests will keep students in school, out of trouble and on a road to graduation. It’s these hard-to-come-by opportunities that give hope to low-income parents and students.

“I did not want to send them to the neighborhood school,” Susette Holder said, regarding her two 13-year-old children. “One wants to go into law enforcement and the other wants music, and our area does not provide that.”

Miami isn’t the only place where magnet participation is prevalent. More than 2.8 million students in the U.S. attend a magnet school, compared to the nearly 2.6 million attending charter schools.