Tuesday, June 19, 2018
Education

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."

Comments
Ethan Hooper steps up with a salute to teachers

Ethan Hooper steps up with a salute to teachers

Editor’s note: Ethan Hooper wrote today’s column to give Ernest Hooper Father’s Day off.In May, I graduated from the University of Central Florida with a degree in elementary education, and I recently secured a job as a first-grade teacher with Orang...
Published: 06/18/18
AP World History course is dropping thousands of years of human events - and critics are furious

AP World History course is dropping thousands of years of human events - and critics are furious

Since 2002, the AP World History course has covered thousands of years of human activity around the planet, starting 10,000 years back. But now the College Board, which owns the Advanced Placement program, wants to cut out most of that history and st...
Published: 06/16/18
School board races attract new faces

School board races attract new faces

TAMPA — When long-time Hillsborough County School Board member Susan Valdes resigned this month from the board to run for the State House of Representatives, the decision affected more than just her seat in west Hillsborough’s District 1.It also coul...
Published: 06/14/18
Updated: 06/17/18
Hillsborough schools tax referendum is unlikely for November

Hillsborough schools tax referendum is unlikely for November

TAMPA — Money that the Hillsborough County School District needs to build schools and replace air conditioners might be farther from reach, thanks to a new state law and a bureaucratic process required before the voters can decide on a tax referendum...
Published: 06/14/18
University of Chicago eliminates SAT/ACT requirement

University of Chicago eliminates SAT/ACT requirement

The University of Chicago will no longer require ACT or SAT scores from U.S. students, sending a jolt through elite institutions of higher education as it becomes the first top-10 research university to join the test-optional movement.Numerous school...
Published: 06/14/18
Unhappy with superintendent’s budget wish list, Hernando School Board shuts down talk of tax increase

Unhappy with superintendent’s budget wish list, Hernando School Board shuts down talk of tax increase

BROOKSVILLE — Hernando County schools Superintendent Lori Romano presented to the School Board Tuesday nearly $53 million worth of budget priorities, asking them to choose which will be funded in the upcoming school year.The board voted 3-2 later Tue...
Published: 06/13/18
UT shines the spotlight on visiting authors

UT shines the spotlight on visiting authors

The University of Tampa’s MFA program will host the June 2018 Residency Visiting Writers Lectores Series that runs from now until June 21 on the ninth floor of the Vaughn Center, 401 W Kennedy Blvd. Each reading will be held at 7:30 p.m.Each January ...
Published: 06/12/18
Updated: 06/15/18
Hernando School Board fires Superintendent Lori Romano after member says she ‘lost the public trust’

Hernando School Board fires Superintendent Lori Romano after member says she ‘lost the public trust’

BROOKSVILLE — Hernando County schools Superintendent Lori Romano will step down at the end of this month following a 3-2 vote by the School Board to terminate its contract with her amid increasing concerns about her ability to lead.Romano has suffere...
Published: 06/12/18
Updated: 06/13/18
Pasco summit aims to merge school cultures while making students feel included

Pasco summit aims to merge school cultures while making students feel included

NEW PORT RICHEY — The dozen Fivay High school students and their administrators arrived at the Pasco County school district’s annual Together We Stand conference with a clear goal in mind.With hundreds of former Ridgewood High students arriving in th...
Published: 06/12/18
Central’s air rifle team prepares for national competition

Central’s air rifle team prepares for national competition

BROOKSVILLE — Historic Camp Perry is where it’s at. Located near Clinton, Ohio, the National Guard training facility is where the nation’s top shooters go to compete.Next week, some of Hernando County’s top shooters compete there in the Civilian Mark...
Published: 06/11/18
Updated: 06/14/18