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Earn diploma online? Hernando board considers idea to help dropouts

BROOKSVILLE — It was only two weeks ago that the Hernando School Board vetoed one for-profit company's pitch to teach its high school dropouts. But the district is far from done with the idea.

Superintendent Wayne Alexander plans to ask the board to consider signing up an online education company, Penn Foster Career School, to teach students who have left high school or appear headed that way.

Such a move could make it more difficult for the spurned charter school company, Mavericks in Education of Fort Lauderdale, to get a foothold in the county.

Mavericks vows to file an appeal with the state over the School Board's unanimous Nov. 4 vote to block it from opening a 350-student school. Even if it wins that appeal, it would have to find students to fill those seats — something that could be harder if another company is offering a similar program here.

Alexander said the Penn Foster program would offer advantages even compared to the state's online program, Florida Virtual School.

The district could pay the company $585 per course or $1,500 per student for an unlimited number of courses, he said. With the district earning an average of $3,800 per student in state aid, that could prove more economical than the Mavericks' model, in which the company would take all but 5 percent for its costs or that of a local governing board.

"It's something that we could have a little more control over," Alexander said.

Following the Mavericks vote, several board members said they were interested in boosting the district's dropout programs — both to keep more students on track for graduation, and to prevent state and local tax dollars going into the hands of a for-profit company.

Both programs would target the same 3.3 percent of the district's high school students who left school in 2007. Such students are tough to reach once they've left school, Alexander said, and effective programs need to meet their needs.

The average dropout is "probably working a part-time job from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m.," he said. "He's sleeping until noon."

But that student may have time to study toward a high school diploma, and the Penn Foster program would be more flexible by allowing students to log on at all hours.

"On the other end of the line is a teacher," Alexander said. "They have them all over the place."

It could also give the district a new tool to lure students pursuing General Education Development (GED) certification back into a regular diploma program, boosting their job prospects.

The board is scheduled to consider the proposal on Dec. 9.

Originally founded as a correspondence school, Penn Foster was acquired by a venture capital firm in 2007, and is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Secondary Schools and the Distance Education and Training Council.

In its promotional materials, the company says that it currently enrolls more than 200,000 students, and that "one out of every 1,410 Americans is an active Penn Foster student."

Tom Marshall can be reached at tmarshall@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1431.

Earn diploma online? Hernando board considers idea to help dropouts 11/18/08 [Last modified: Thursday, November 20, 2008 8:00pm]

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