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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Florida lawmakers look to expand online, digital education options



There's a move afoot in the Florida Legislature to expand access to the state's virtual schooling options, similar to efforts that were tried and failed in several past years.

The House Education Choice and Innovation Subcommittee is proposing a bill on digital education that would, among other things, require the state to fund the virtual courses taken by any home schooled students who are registered in their districts as home schoolers. It sounds innocuous enough. But the change would open the door to thousands of students who have never enrolled in a public school, something the Legislature has balked against before.

Lawmakers' concerns have not been about expanding virtual schooling. Many of them fervently promote the concept and continue to talk about growing it. The issue, at least in past iterations of the Legislature, has centered on the unknowable amount of money that would be spent on this group of students that previously has not been in the system. Some past years' estimates put the projected cost in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, a cost that lawmakers were unwilling to accept — particularly since districts and the state would struggle to accurately predict how and where the money would arrive and where it would go.

The idea comes in a larger bill that also would require online education providers to improve their lines of communication with parents and students, answering to a perpetual complaint, and even bigger, permitting school districts to create "innovation schools" based on a combination of classroom and technology instruction. Those schools would be freed from most of the state's education statutes, similar to charter schools, including that if an innovation school were to earn an F grade from the state two consecutive years, it would be closed.

It's a provocative concept, especially as state leaders continue to question whether schools have adequate technology to meet testing and instructional demands already in place. Department of Education officials said Monday that some districts are getting closer, but that most have hardware and bandwidth needs remaining. (See their update here.)

The subcommittee meets at 9 a.m. Wednesday. Stay tuned to see what part of this bill makes it through.

[Last modified: Tuesday, February 19, 2013 8:24am]


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