While enrollment has plummeted at Florida Virtual School, the nation’s largest online learning provider, its franchises with local school districts are experiencing unprecedented growth.
Between July 1 and the first week of October, the 55 Florida districts that operate franchises with Florida Virtual School saw course requests soar from 58,3o6 in 2012 to 96,656 in 2013 for a 66 percent increase, according to FLVS data. Over the same time span, FLVS reported an 11 percent drop with approved course requests going from 311,077 to 276,424.
In some districts, the franchise growth is massive. In Alachua County, course requests jumped from 465 in 2012 to 3,217 this year. Broward went from 4,079 to 17,029.
The shift is a sign that the new state education funding calculation did hit FLVS hard, but it doesn’t appear it has kept students from continuing to enroll in online courses overall. Total course enrollments for FLVS offerings within franchises and the provider are up 1 percent, from 369,383 in 2012 to 373,080 in 2013.
With a Florida Virtual School franchise, districts pay FLVS $50 per half-credit for the provider’s courses and receive student support and teacher training. FLVS also provides administrative, curriculum and technical support. The arrangement allows districts to use their own teachers and keep state funding received for each student in-house.
The funding change was approved by legislators and Gov. Rick Scott last spring. Before, districts received their full per-student allocation even when a student took a course through FLVS, which also received funding. Now, the district receives six-sevenths of the allotment and FLVS gets one-seventh.
Lawmakers contend the measure is more equitable, preventing the state from paying for the same student more than once. But some admit the funding change led to unintended consequences, with some districts blocking students from signing up for Florida Virtual and others pushing students to their franchises first.
During a legislative committee meeting last month, Holly Sagues, FLVS’ chief policy officer, said the continued drop in course requests led to layoffs and a halt in course development. The move could wind up costing the state-funded agency $40 million, she said.
The Senate Education Committee has requested an update on legislative changes to digital learning and other programs during a meeting next week.
The chart below, provided by FLVS, shows overall course request increases in franchise programs across the state. Okaloosa, with only three this school year, no longer has a franchise.