A bill expanding Florida’s virtual education landscape advances

A bill that would turn Florida’s virtual education landscape into a public-private potpourri of learning options passed a Senate committee this afternoon without a peep of dissent.

In fact, among the Senate Education PreK-12 Committee members who voted in support was a newly elected Democrat, Bill Montford, who is also the CEO of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents. Among those who testified in favor of the bill, SB 1620, was an elected School Board member from a small northeast Florida county, Jim Adams, who said it would be an educational boon to students in rural areas and those in foster care. Most strikingly, among the organizations that signed up to voice support was the Florida Virtual School, the nation’s largest and most successful public virtual school.

The bill is sponsored by Miami Sen. Anitere Flores, who said the goal is to provide as many quality online education options as possible for all Florida students. She told the committee the bill is the work product of many groups that came together to endorse a plan that provides fulltime and part-time virtual options, creates multiple statewide virtual providers that would be approved by the Department of Education, expands Florida Virtual School to serve K-5 students, and creates virtual charter schools and blended-learning charter schools.

The bill is similar to a report issued by a choice working group called the Florida Alliance for Choices in Education, a group that included both private providers and Florida Virtual School representatives. Though it is getting a late start in the 2011 session, the bill looks likely to pick up momentum. The outgoing and respected education commissioner, Eric Smith, issued a statement in support: “Florida is a national leader when it comes to the use of virtual instruction in public education, showcasing programs and entire schools that are using technology to fulfill the academic dreams of students. Should this bill become law, it will mean the dawn of a new era of education innovation in our state, resulting in countless new learning opportunities for every student.” Additionally, a press conference is scheduled for Thursday to showcase the broad-based and bipartisan support.

A House bill introduced last week, HB 7197, is not nearly so ambitious, and the push is to conform the House approach with that of Sen. Flores.

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BY Amy Graham

Amy Graham is a policy analyst who recently joined Step Up For Students, a nonprofit organization that administers the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program for low-income children. A graduate of the Florida State University College of Law, Amy previously worked as a legislative analyst for the Florida Senate and as an education policy analyst focused on school choice programs for the Office of Independent Education and Parental Choice at the Florida Department of Education. She also is an alumnus of Illinois Wesleyan University.


Susan van Balen

It would be nice if parents could receive the $3,000.- per month normal public schools receive for educating gifted students. Who have their own set of difficulties to overcome and are not well served by the system. We can use it for the tutoring they need next to the online education. So parents are not forced to replace all teacher presence themselves. And give their kids the attention so truly no child is left behind. Its ridiculous to me that a highly gifted kid can do no better than getting D’s and F’s in the public school system. And are not very well served by the current systems in place. The money would help greatly by replacing band program by private music lessons as well, since my kid now has to miss out on the only thing he did like in school, a great musical program.

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