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.