Scott, Lawmakers Push For Virtual School

By: Lilly Rockwell, The News Service of Florida
By: Lilly Rockwell, The News Service of Florida


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.

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.

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  • by FutureChilesParent Location: Tallahassee on May 6, 2011 at 07:47 AM
    So, I got my kids's schedule yesterday. She got no electives and she is signed up for one virtual class. VIRTUAL Physical Education. can you say WTF? Virtual PE? Is Jackie Pons serious?
  • by Rose Location: Tallahassee on Apr 27, 2011 at 01:05 PM
    I would be looking at how many GOPers own a financial interest in online "education". As for the on-line colleges, most of them are for-profit scams.
  • by Anonymous on Apr 27, 2011 at 12:20 PM
    The virtual schools are qite real. The ones that we have used are basically a private tudor. Yes I know that there are some of these so called on-line colleges. But, what is being utilized in the public middle and high schools are not the same.
    • reply
      by Rose on Apr 27, 2011 at 01:08 PM in reply to
      The GOP doesn't mind a stupid populace as they are easy to persuade and control. (For an example--the "birthers". How freakin' moronic is that? But, unfortunately, all too real.)
  • by Frank Location: Tally on Apr 27, 2011 at 09:55 AM
    Let's see, so the solution to poor education and allegedly poor teacher quality is to let students work from home on the honor system? I teach at a university and can't wait to see how much lower the quality of students can drop. Apparently there is something below bottom. This should certainly catch us up with the scandanavian, asian, and european countries that already outdo us in almost every category. And they DO have free education including equivalents of our college/university undergraduate AND graduate programs. Maybe we should let a corporation run it all, after all, they are trustworthy and would certainly choose quality over profit.
    • reply
      by I know what I am talking about on Apr 27, 2011 at 10:50 AM in reply to Frank
      Frank you are a total idiot and don't know what you are talking about. I know from first hand experience with my children tht the virtual schools are a blessing. We had better contact with these teachers that the ones at the schools here in Tallahassee and we appreciated the individual attention that our children received.
    • reply
      by Thom on Apr 27, 2011 at 11:07 AM in reply to Frank
      Amem. The supporters' and politicians' ignorance of the practical application and influence of an educational environment is dumbfounding. I guess they are going to create a whole generation of people who vote without being able to think critically for themselves. They will simply listen to parroted rhetoric. I believe that is how most got elected this time around.
      • reply
        by Anonymous on Apr 27, 2011 at 11:37 AM in reply to Thom
        You might be hitting a point here Thom, real teachers in real schools are likely to teach both sides of a story or issue - the virtual (NOT real) education will be much better suited to serving the propaganda that has been the mainstay of the GOP and its followers.
    • reply
      by Lee on Apr 27, 2011 at 11:23 AM in reply to Frank
      Well said Frank...there are many people who believe this as well....there self-proclaimed logic makes no sense....
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