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School Districts Will Have to Vastly Expand Virtual Education; Charters to Click In

| April 27, 2011

virtual school florida legislature

No escaping it: virtual schooling is going into overdrive in Florida. (© Nicholas Hendrickx)

Florida Gov. Rick Scott confirmed his support Tuesday for a bill that expands online K-12 education in Florida, a good indication the measure will become law this year.

After approval Tuesday in its final Senate committee stop, both chambers are now poised to vote on bills (SB 1620, HB 7197) that would require all students take an online course before graduating, would allow kindergarten students to take online classes, and allow virtual charter schools to offer full or part-time online classes.

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The Florida Virtual School would also be allowed to offer full-time and part-time instruction to more grades and would be able to receive funding directly from the state instead of going through school districts.

The measures have been swiftly pushed through the Republican-dominated Legislature in the this session with minimal opposition from lawmakers and school lobbyists.

But on Tuesday, several school district lobbyists said they have major concerns about the bill, which could draw more students away from public schools and into full-time online classes paid for with state funds.

“We are very concerned about this bill and ask that it be delayed,” Seminole County Schools lobbyist Darvin Boothe told the Senate Rules Committee. “We do not feel like districts have had an adequate time to be involved in the process.”

Some critics of online education have questioned its quality, saying kids rely too heavily on the Internet for plagiarized answers and that there isn’t enough oversight of students. Many supporters of traditional brick-and-mortar schools say regular schools play a vital role in socializing young children and in checking on the welfare of students.

Even as criticisms began to emerge against the bill, a rally hosted by the group “Florida Coalition for Public School Options” brought hundreds of students and parents from across Florida to the Capitol to show their support for virtual school expansion. A broad alliance of pro-school choice groups came to support the measure, including private and charter school students as well as dozens of home-schooled students who take virtual classes.

The rally drew some of Florida’s most powerful state politicians, such as Gov. Scott, Senate President Mike Haridopolos, and Rep. Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, who is scheduled to be House Speaker in late 2012.

“Some people are visual learners, some people do well in a virtual school environment,” Haridopolos said. “Not everyone learns the same way. Virtual schools have proven their success and there are enough safeguards in place.”

But in perhaps a sign of what little public attention this bill has received, there was some confusion among elected officials and rally attendees about what legislation they were supporting.

Scott said at the rally he was “calling on the Legislature to move the charter school legislation forward.”

That bill (SB 1546) allows high-performing charter schools to expand grades and enrollment. It is poised for Senate approval this week and was not the primary focus of Tuesday’s rally.

After the rally Scott spokesman Lane Wright clarified that the governor does support virtual school expansion.

“Gov. Scott supports the concept of virtual schools and has since the campaign,” Wright said. “Scott believes that parents and their students should be free to choose the type of educational options that best suit their needs.”

Some parents who attended the rally said they prefer online classes for their children.

Brevard County resident Carol Whitler, who home-schools her grandson said he is taking two virtual classes through K12, a virtual school provider that offers classes through Florida school districts.

Her grandson is hyperactive and didn’t perform well at a traditional public school, Whitler said. He is taking third-grade history and science online and Whitler teaches him the other subjects. He has responded well to online classes, and twice a month has one-on one talks with his teacher. “The future is in computers,” she said.

But other parents said that virtual classes aren’t for everybody.

Annmarie Mitchell, from West Palm Beach, said her 16-year-old daughter Amber took virtual classes but didn’t perform well. Mitchell said it was because she was given a lot of leeway to police her own school work.

“It wasn’t the best choice for her,” Mitchell said. Amber took psychology, history, English, and biology online.

Still, Mitchell supports the idea of allowing more people to take virtual classes.

“A lot of the problems happening with teenagers – and why virtual school is so great for them – is teenagers are really scared to share their opinion because of what their peers will say,” Mitchell said. “So with virtual education they have discussions and chat sessions and they are opening up more.”

Meanwhile, some lawmakers and lobbyists say they are concerned about the state’s increasing emphasis on online courses. Boothe, the schools lobbyist, said the bill could be costly. The bill analysis says it could cost the state an additional $6.2 million next school year based on estimated increases in virtual school enrollment.

Sen. Gwen Margolis, D-Sunny Isles, said online education disfavors students who do not own computers. She has unsuccessfully tried to amend the bill to require parent notification for students taking online courses.

–Lilly Rockwell, News Service of Florida

7 Responses for “School Districts Will Have to Vastly Expand Virtual Education; Charters to Click In”

  1. johninc says:

    An important part of childhood education is socialization, the acquisition of key social skills that you only get from being in and a part of the group. Socialization becomes a less component of education as you grow older. While virtual education is intriguing and has its place, more so with older children / young adults, it does not permit younger children to acquire vital social skills.

  2. Lisa says:

    Online schools focus on education, while some brick and mortar schools cannot control students’ behavior and have only provided socialization. The argument can go both ways. Choice is the only answer. Let the parents choose what is best for their children.

  3. Liana G says:

    Totally agree with both points of view. School vouchers will also provide a great alternative.
    Hope Gov. Scott speeds up this alternative!

  4. PC Dad says:

    Yes yes Gov. Scott please hurry with these changes that the CITIZENS DON’T NEED.

    VOUCHERS = business welfare at it’s best.

  5. Liana G says:

    PC Dad – speak for your self! Wwhen did having choices become such a terrible thing? You seriously think that businesses do not have their hands is our education system? Think about the monopoly the textbooks publishers have (Pearson), standardized tests producers (Princeton), properietary technology (Apple/Mac), not to mention the vendors that provide school breakfast/lunch (US Foods). Let’s also add the training/workshops that teachers and administrators have to constantly go to – that’s another form of monopoly by some other corporation. Then think about all the cushy, do nothing, overpaid jobs in public education that tax dollars are paying for.

    Now think about our inept politicians – compliments of public education (most of them) – who are unable to see what’s going on, or have the wherewithal to do something. So please don’t decry the opportunity of a quality education for our students from some where else. Most of the time when businesses compete – we the consumers win.

  6. PC Dad says:

    Liana G –> Thanks for making my point even more – it’s all corporate welfare. Anyone or business who takes a pay out – or worse – a tax cut is getting welfare. It’s a crying shame that there are some in our society today who don’t see welfare for the corporate world as being just as bad as the give aways of welfare for the low or no income.

    Trust me, when businesses compete, it’s usually through campaign contributions to get the nice cushy “contracts”. No way in hell that politicians or businesses are doing this out of the goodness of their hearts. Charter schools is just more corporate wlefare.

  7. Liana G says:

    To: PC Dad –

    “Anyone or business who takes a pay out – or worse – a tax cut is getting welfare.” – you got this from your public education right? And you do realize that those low income/no income are products of public education who were most likely kicked out of school because they were struggling learners and their grades were interferring with school funding, or their schooling was so crappy it did not provide them with a decent education. That’s a crying shame that some in our society don’t seem to get!

    You do also realize that ‘anyone’ getting a tax cut does not constitutet welfare when it’s their own money to begin with. That’s another crying shame that there are some in our society who don’t get this.

    On the other hand, corporate welfare is what Wall Street got when they were bailed out with tax payer dole when they screwed up. And the tax breaks Big Oil is getting while raking in billions of dollars in profits. Yet some of our politicians and citizens don’t have a problem with this, but they have a problem with offering opportunities for a quality education to our children to better themselves! That’s another crying shame!

    Vouchers for charter schools/private schools/home school are providing taxpayers with a choice. Where is the welfare in that? The gov’t is simply saying, we’re going to give you the parents/students the money/voucher so you can decide how and where you want to be educated.

    When we have people like Warren Buffet and Bill Gates talking about the lousy job this country is doing educating its citizens and the need for reform, you know something is wrong.

    I recently read an article that highlighted this plight. According to the article, over the years, America made up for its lack of skilled workers by issuing work visas to foreigners, mostly people from Asia’s emerging economies (India, China), but now America is facing a shortage of these talents because of demand for these workers in their own countries, and competition from other emerging economies also vying for these talents.

    Today we have college professors lamenting the quality of the education of American students comming through their doors resulting in: the many remedial classes colleges now have to offer, the high drop out rates of college students who cannot keep pace, and the dumbing down of the college education just to retain students. And businesses know this.

    Unless/Until we can get partisian poitics effectively out of education, thereby making education an independent entity devoid of such political influences, vouchers are the way to go!

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