Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Bill opens up funding for private virtual schools

TALLAHASSEE — Private online learning companies will get a better shot at Florida public school funding under a bill that won approval on the final day of the legislative session.

Though the vote garnered little attention from outside observers, Republicans hailed it as among the year's most important victories for school choice.

"We want to open up access and give our kids the very best," said Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah, who sponsored the bill in the House.

But Democrats were outraged that the final action took place on the last day of the session — and only hours after lawmakers reduced the funding for Florida's public virtual school.

Taken together, critics said, the moves were a clear effort to privatize public education.

"If you want to get at the largest portion of the state budget that has not been privatized, it is education," said Jeff Wright, who oversees public policy advocacy for the Florida Education Association, the state teachers union. "That's what this is all about. This is about allowing outside vendors to get a piece of the action."

School choice debates are often among the most contentious in Tallahassee.

For nearly two decades, the Florida Legislature has been expanding choice options, ranging from privately managed charter schools to voucher programs. In 2011, the Legislature made it a requirement for all high school students to complete at least one course online, creating a guaranteed market for online learning services. Virtual schooling took center stage again this year.

Currently, students can enroll full time in the public Florida Virtual School or use the program to satisfy the graduation requirement. School systems can also open their own franchise of Florida Virtual and have the option of contracting with a handful of state-approved private virtual learning providers.

Some of those private providers have recently come under scrutiny. Last year, the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting found that K12, an online education company that does business with 43 Florida school districts, had used teachers with improper certifications and asked employees to cover up the practice.

K12 and other providers were active in Tallahassee this year.

During the last election cycle, K12 made $21,000 in campaign contributions to Republicans in state House races and gave $25,000 to the Republican Party of Florida, state elections records show. Both K12 and Kaplan, which has also done business with the state, hired high-profile lobbyist Jim Horne, a former state senator who also represents Associated Industries of Florida.

Horne did not return calls seeking comment.

V Schoolz, an e-learning company backed by South Florida entrepreneur Wayne Huizenga, had power-lobbyist Ron Book leading its efforts. During committee meetings, Book urged lawmakers to break up the "semi-monopoly" held by Florida Virtual School.

The proposal the Legislature passed would allow private providers to bypass some of the vetting process and be approved on a trial basis. It would also open the door to out-of-state providers, which have historically been disallowed. The bill also allows the state Education Department to study Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs, for consideration in the future.

During an intense debate on the Senate floor, Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, likened the idea to "letting the outstanding (providers) from around the world come to the state of Florida, and allowing our teachers and students to decide what's best for them."

Sen. Darren Soto, an Orlando Democrat, offered a different description: "Another way to privatize our public schools."

Diaz, who sponsored the proposal and works as an assistant principal in Miami-Dade, has insisted it "is not about private business."

"What we're talking about is access to courses that may be given by Harvard or MIT," he said during a debate on the House floor. "What we're doing here is not replacing Florida Virtual, by any stretch of the imagination. We're trying to provide more access to our students, especially those students who are advanced and who learn better by this modality."

Bill opens up funding for private virtual schools 05/13/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 14, 2013 10:11pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. What to watch this weekend: 'GLOW,' second season of 'Preacher'

    Blogs

    Ready to rumble: GLOW

    Four words: Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling. Yes, the fluorescent, body-slamming soap opera GLOW starring a cast of exaggerated characters is back, this time as a fictionalized Netflix series. Alison Brie (Community, Mad Men) stars as Ruth, a down-on-her-luck actor …

    Alison Brie, left, and Betty Gilpin in GLOW on Netflix.
  2. Exploratory Lab Boot Camp provides real-life technology training to students

    Science

    CLEARWATER — At this graduation ceremony featuring some of the brightest local minds in tech, it was the youngsters who stood out.

    Laszo Leedy, 17, a senior at Shorecrest Prep, presents part of his team's project for SPC's Exploratory Lab Boot Camp. Students presented their ideas at the end of the SPC Exploratory Lab Boot Camp. The program provides real-time business training to students. This year's graduation celebrated 15 students that finished the program. 
[JIM DAMASKE   |   Times]
  3. Editorial: Trump, not military, should set troop levels in Afghanistan

    Editorials

    There is no task more solemn for any American president than the decision to send troops off to war. In delegating authority over troops levels in Afghanistan to the Pentagon, President Donald Trump has shirked his obligation to own and defend his Afghan policy, while further divorcing America's military strategy there …

  4. North Korea says it's 'biggest victim' in U.S. student's death (w/video)

    World

    SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea on Friday called itself the "biggest victim" in the death of an American student who was detained for more than a year and died days after being released in a coma.

    Mourners line the street after the funeral of Otto Warmbier, Thursday, June 22, 2017, in Wyoming, Ohio. Warmbier, a 22-year-old University of Virginia undergraduate student who was sentenced in March 2016 to 15 years in prison with hard labor in North Korea, died this week, days after returning to the United States. [Associated Press]
  5. Kentucky recruit, former Tampa Catholic star Kevin Knox among top prospects for 2018 NBA Draft

    Preps

    Less than 24 hours after the NBA Draft, analysts have already begun looking ahead to 2018.

    Tampa Catholic star Kevin Knox finishes a layup during the McDonald's All-American game in March at the United Center in Chicago. [LOREN ELLIOTT | Times]