Enrollment hit to Florida Virtual School drawing lawmakers’ attention

Florida lawmakers are starting to key in on a recent funding change that has put a big dent in enrollment at Florida Virtual School, with one promising the issue will be revisited in coming months and another saying action against school districts may be warranted.

Rep. Carl Zimmermann
Rep. Carl Zimmermann

When legislative committees meet in Tallahassee in September, “I can guarantee you this is going to be discussed,” said Rep. Carl Zimmermann, a Pinellas Democrat who sits on the House Education Committee.

At issue is a change to the state’s education funding formula that lawmakers approved last spring. Under the old method, districts received their full per-student allocation even when that full-time student was taking one course with Florida Virtual School, which also received funding for that student. Now under that same scenario, the district receives six-sevenths of the allotment and FLVS receives one-seventh. The more courses a student takes online, the less money the district and FLVS receive.

Even before the recalculated formula went into effect last month, Florida Virtual School, the state’s leading provider of online classes and among the nation’s largest, reported dramatic declines in enrollment. They expect a $34 million loss. More troublesome, they say, is students are being turned away from a popular school choice option.

They say they’re still getting calls from students and parents, complaining that schools are making them take online classes through the district – or not letting them sign up at all. The situation prompted the Florida Department of Education to warn at least 10 districts to stop the practice, which may violate state law. And last month, after more reports surfaced, DOE’s chancellor of public schools sent another warning – this time in a memo to superintendents statewide.

Florida Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, the chair of the Senate Education Appropriations Committee, said he stands behind the funding changes, calling them more equitable. But he also said it’s likely lawmakers will revisit the issue to address the unintended consequences. And he said the chancellor’s recent warning was “absolutely the correct message to send.”

“We do want students and parents to have that option,” said Galvano, who added he has two high school students at home who will be looking to take online courses this school year.

Sen. Bill Galvano
Sen. Bill Galvano

Galvano said action against districts might be in order, though he doesn’t know what that might be, yet. “If they’re not abiding by what is basically the law … then yes, there should be consequences,’’ he said.

Zimmermann said lawmakers discussed potential concerns before they approved the change. “But, honestly, I don’t think they understood the (funding) formula and the negative impact the change would have,” he said. “We don’t want to be double-paying, but this new formula is extremely unfair.’’

That’s true for districts, too, he said, because they didn’t receive any additional funds to offset the losses when students sign up for Florida Virtual School courses.

“Public schools still have to pay for air-conditioning,’’ said Zimmermann, a Pinellas County high school teacher-turned-legislator. “They still have to pay for heating. They still have to feed the kids. These are fixed costs. When they lose kids to virtual school, their costs aren’t going down.’’

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BY Sherri Ackerman

Sherri Ackerman is the former associate editor of redefinED. She is a former correspondent for the Tampa Bay Times and reporter for The Tampa Tribune, writing about everything from cops and courts to social services and education. She grew up in Indiana and moved to Tampa as a teenager, graduating from Brandon High School and, later, from the University of South Florida with a bachelor’s degree in mass communications/news editing. Sherri passed away in March 2016.


A concern in at least one district has now contracted with an out of state for-profit-educational-organization for their online educational services. So, another unintended result is that state moneys are now leaving the state rather than supporting our own educational institutions. Sharing of tax dollars is now a loss of our state tax dollars.

monique thomas

L. Gill, You are dead on.

Crony-capitalism, public/private partnerships–AKA Fascism. The community suffers while their tax dollars benefit the deals that our politicians make with their favorite corporate buddies. Jeb Bush, Pearson, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, etc.

Charter schools and the K12virtual program are textbook cases of taking public funds. Under the Common Core State Standards ALL schools will have to have the same program. So why would anyone accept the use of their own money to give to a private enterprise to get the same crappy outcome based education?

Outcome Based Education failed in the 90’s. Change the name to No Child Left Behind-FAILED in the 2000s. Change it up and call it Race to the Top, the bribery money for the deployment of the Common Core State Standards–EPIC FAIL for OUR CHILDREN, OUR TEACHERS and ultimately OUR NATION.

Any elected or appointed official from the Board of Ed, to the State House, the Governor, FLDoE to the US Congress who supports Common Core leads in a treacherous Mussolini like fashion. They need to resign immediately or be removed from office.

Governor Scott is preparing to appoint a new Commissioner of the FLDoE after his last choice, Tony Bennett resigned in a school grading scandal. Let him know you won’t stand for anymore injustice to our public education system.

Governor Crist got us into this mess. Gov. Scott doesn’t have to keep steering this ship into a perfect storm of government takeovers while our children walk the plank—-> the 10th plank of the ‘Communist Manifesto’

The state legislators have been put on notice that CCSS is rotton to the core.
Study up.


I have a 17 year old who we chose to place in fl virtual due to the public school system in our area is so very unorganized and no concentration on the class room. My daughters complaint was: I am not learning because the teachers are spending most of the class time trying to quiet down the other students. Due to the distraction we choose to pull her out. If things would change and districts would tighten up like things were when I was in school then the funding may stay where it should but please give these students a way out in the meantime for a better education with Florida virtual school.
A concerned parent

Exactly my daughters sentiments. My daughter, now a junior, feels virtual school was her best option. I don’t think parents or students think of the political aspects of education, they just want to have what’s best for them. I do however see the point of funding and the effects it could have.

District-based FLVS Teacher

I sympathize with the parents who wish for the alternative presented to them. They deserve that alternative. Something legislatures may not realize is that 1) FLVS actively and ubiquitously approaches students and parents through advertising and e-mails to sign up for their classes, and 2) when a student tries to sign up for a class, there is a drop down menu in which FLVS is their main choice if they do not look at the other choice in the drop-down menu (which would be the same content as FLVS used by district teachers, which keeps local money local and paying local district teachers to teach the FLVS content). FLVS has excellent curriculum and in addition to the concerns already stated, there are others, such as hospital home bound students, students whose parents are tired of their children being bullied, teen moms who might not otherwise graduate, student athletes who work out 30 hours or more per week, students in the entertainment business, and home schooled students. They all deserve a “choice” in their education. So, when thinking about what that formula should be, think about the fact that FLVS is a corporation and the district teachers teaching their content rely on being given a “fair” chance to keep the district money in the district. These are all legitimate concerns. If not for the wonderful curriculum provided by FLVS, a corporation, these students would lose out on one of their “choices”, and in some cases, a highly valuable education. Let’s get the formula (and the practices of FLVS) into a more fair system. While you are at it, by the same token, not every student has the capacity to “learn online”. Please remove the stipulation stating that they “must” take one course!

Holly Boardman

The virtual school scene in Florida is VERY complex. FLVS is nationally recognized and considered to be top rate for many reasons. Some district virtual schools choose to use FLVS’s outstanding curricula, but some (like Seminole County) have chosen to contract with K12. However Seminole County uses local teachers, and maintains a measure of control that is not found in K12 programs for home schoolers.

Also, FLVS now contracts with Connections Academy to provide courses for grades 3-8. (This year FLVS just began offering their own courses for K-1). Connections Academy is a FOR-PROFIT school from out-of-state.

For-profit virtual schools (K12 and Connections Academy) underpay teachers and assign them an unreasonable number of students. This means that students do not get the individualized attention they deserve.

I had hoped to become a virtual school teacher, but at this point the field is wild and crazy in Florida. I do NOT want to teach for a for-profit company even if it is operated by a district or FLVS.

Florida parents, voters, and legislators need to do their research in order to be sure Florida students have high quality, virtual courses as an option for their education. It is extremely complex. And I agree with the district virtual school teacher above that the REQUIREMENT for Florida students to take an online class needs to be dropped.

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