Archive | Virtual Education

Florida schools roundup: Education bill, autonomy for schools and more

Education bill: The Florida House Education Committee passes H.B. 733, the nearly all-inclusive education bill that would cut standardized testing and make significant changes to the state’s K-12 education system. The bill does not include mandatory recess time for elementary students, which is in the Senate’s proposal. Miami Herald. Sunshine State News. Florida Politics. Included in a 76-page amendment to the bill are several provisions to help charter and virtual schools. redefinED. The feud between House and Senate leaders over the state budget continues, though several still think they can reach an agreement before the session is scheduled to end May 5. News Service of Florida. Sunshine State News.

Autonomy for schools: A bill passed by the House would broaden autonomy for principals from a pilot program in seven districts to the highest-performing 20 percent of all public schools. Under the pilot program, principals at low-performing schools have greater control over hiring and would be freed from some state regulations. redefinED.

Teacher contracts: Two special state magistrates have issued different interpretations to districts about whether they can negotiate contract renewal guarantees for teachers who are rated highly effective or effective. In both cases, the districts told the teachers unions a 2011 law did not allow guaranteed teacher contracts. Unions in St. Johns and Pasco counties wouldn’t agree to a contract without that guarantee. In St. Johns, a magistrate agreed with the teachers union. In Pasco, a magistrate sided with the district. Gradebook.

High school rankings: Pine View School in Osprey is rated the top high school in the state in the latest U.S. News & World Report’s rankings. Design and Architecture Senior High in Miami is second, International Studies Charter High School in Miami third, International Studies Preparatory Academy in Coral Gables fourth, and Westshore Junior/Senior High School in Melbourne fifth. U.S. News & World Report. Miami HeraldNaples Daily News. South Florida Business Journal. Continue Reading →


Florida roundup: Schools of hope, special needs scholarships and more

Legislation. Senate President Joe Negron says education funding is among the most difficult spending issues lawmakers will try to resolve this session. Tallahassee Democrat. Budget talks between the House and Senate appear to be at an impasse. The Buzz.

Schools of Hope. Florida House members say attracting charter school operators remains an important part of their plan to transform persistently struggling schools. redefinED. Tampa Bay Times columnist John Romano blasts the plan as a “gimmick.” District officials criticize it. Pensacola News-Journal. Activists decry an alleged conspiracy. Tallahassee Democrat.

Failure factories. A principal at a struggling Pinellas County school is caught saying by email that white students should be grouped in classes together, then fails to provide a complete explanation. Tampa Bay Times.

Superintendents. A Duval school board member wants to try to keep district schools chief Nikolai Vitti around. Florida Times-Union. Vitti was hired to make changes. Were they enough? Times-Union. A legal battle over transparency stalls his talks for a new job in Detroit. Detroit Free Press.

McKay scrutiny. Orlando Sentinel columnist Lauren Ritchie argues there’s a lack of oversight in Florida’s McKay scholarship program, which provides vouchers to children with special needs.

Charter school conversion. The Polk County Schol Board is set to discuss a plan in which the Lake Wales charter school system would take over a struggling middle school. Lakeland Ledger.

Continue Reading →


Why Florida lawmakers are targeting last remaining virtual education restrictions

Branden Ojeda, front, pictured with FLVS executives and his mother, Sherrie Johnson-Ojeda, far right.

Sherrie Johnson-Ojeda knew she had to find a solution for her son Branden.

The nine-year-old suffers from diabetes and was struggling in a public school in Lake County, Fla.

It became difficult on a day-to-day basis, as Branden was often ill.

“He would come home with pounding headaches and sweat was beating off his forehead,” Johnson-Ojeda said, due to blood sugar levels several times higher than normal.

As a result, she began looking for an alternative for her son and learned about Florida Virtual School.

FLVS functions like a statewide school district, enrolling students in online classes full- and part-time.

Johnson-Ojeda decided to homeschool Branden and enroll him in FLVS Flex, which offers part-time courses, during the 2016-17 school year. She said he made rapid progress.

“He is a straight-A student,” she said of her son’s progress in third grade. “Not only has my son benefited from my teaching, but the interactions with his Florida Virtual School teachers have had a huge impact and difference on my son’s education.”

FLVS gives Johnson-Ojeda more flexibility to schedule doctor appointments for her son and monitor his health more closely, she said.

But whether he can attend FLVS next year remains in question because state law restricts eligibility for virtual schools.

Based on current statutes, Branden is not able to take part-time FLVS courses for his fourth- grade year because he did not attend a public school last year. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Schools of hope, budget, bonuses, statue and more

Schools of hope: The Florida House approves a $200 million plan to recruit charter schools as options to persistently low-performing public schools. The so-called “schools of hope” proposal creates a fund to attract charter school companies to enter areas where traditional public schools have received D or F grades from the state for three straight years. There are 115 such schools in Florida now. “This is our ‘Hail Mary’ to the kids of Florida to try to give them better opportunity and a better life,” says Rep. Chris Latvala, R-Clearwater. Miami HeraldNews Service of Florida. Sunshine State News. Florida Politics. Sun-Sentinel. Here are some specific details in the schools of hope bill. Politico Florida. The House passes an $81.2 billion budget, which is about $4 billion less than the budget approved by the Senate. Tampa Bay Times. Politico Florida. Naples Daily News.

Educator bonuses: The Florida House approves a plan to expand the state’s teacher bonuses program, and include principals in it. The bill widens the pool of eligibility and adds $200 million to the program. The Senate has no money proposed for teacher bonuses, but has indicated a willingness to negotiate an expansion that both chambers can agree on. WFSU.

Capitol statue: The Senate Appropriations Committee approves a measure to place a statue of educator and civil rights leader Mary McLeod Bethune at the U.S. Capitol, replacing the one of Confederate Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith. News Service of Florida.

Student screenings: Thousands of students in Duval and Clay counties never got the mental health screenings the state paid a Fernandina Beach company to do. Florida Psychological Associates was paid $1 million through Florida State University to do the screenings. The university is now offering to return $200,000 to the state for money it had held back for “indirect costs.” WJAX. Tallahassee Democrat. Continue Reading →


School choice in flyover country

School choice can’t work in rural areas? Tell that to Judy Welborn (above right) and Michele Winningham, co-founders of a private school in Williston, Fla., that is thriving thanks to school choice scholarships. Students at Williston Central Christian Academy also take online classes through Florida Virtual School and dual enrollment classes at a community college satellite campus.

Levy County is a sprawl of pine and swamp on Florida’s Gulf Coast, 20 miles from Gainesville and 100 from Orlando. It’s bigger than Rhode Island. If it were a state, it and its 40,000 residents would rank No. 40 in population density, tied with Utah.

Visitors are likely to see more logging trucks than Subaru Foresters, and more swallow-tailed kites than stray cats. If they want local flavor, there’s the watermelon festival in Chiefland (pop. 2,245). If they like clams with their linguine, they can thank Cedar Key (pop. 702).

And if they want to find out if there’s a place for school choice way out in the country, they can chat with Ms. Judy and Ms. Michele in Williston (Levy County’s largest city; pop. 2,768).

In 2010, Judith Welborn and Michele Winningham left long careers in public schools to start Williston Central Christian Academy. They were tired of state mandates. They wanted a faith-based atmosphere for learning. Florida’s school choice programs gave them the power to do their own thing – and parents the power to choose it or not.

Williston Central began with 39 students in grades K-6. It now has 85 in K-11. Thirty-one use tax credit scholarships for low-income students. Seventeen use McKay Scholarships for students with disabilities.

“There’s a need for school choice in every community,” said Welborn, who taught in public schools for 39 years, 13 as a principal. “The parents wanted this.”

The little school in the yellow-brick church rebuts a burgeoning narrative – that rural America won’t benefit from, and could even be hurt by, an expansion of private school choice. The two Republican senators who voted against the confirmation of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos – Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine – represent rural states. Their opposition propelled skeptical stories like this, this and this; columns like this; and reports like this. One headline warned: “For rural America, school choice could spell doom.”

A common thread is the notion that school choice can’t succeed in flyover country because there aren’t enough options. But there are thousands of private schools in rural America – and they may offer more promise in expanding choice than other options. A new study from the Brookings Institution finds 92 percent of American families live within 10 miles of a private elementary school, including 69 percent of families in rural areas. That’s more potential options for those families, the report found, than they’d get from expanded access to existing district and charter schools.

In Florida, 30 rural counties (by this definition) host 119 private schools, including 80 that enroll students with tax credit scholarships. (The scholarship is administered by nonprofits like Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog.) There are scores of others in remote corners of Florida counties that are considered urban, but have huge swaths of hinterland. First Baptist Christian School in the tomato town of Ruskin, for example, is closer to the phosphate pits of Fort Lonesome than the skyscrapers of Tampa. But all of it’s in Hillsborough County (pop. 1.2 million).

The no-options argument also ignores what’s increasingly possible in a choice-rich state like Florida: choice programs leading to more options.

Before they went solo, Welborn and Winningham put fliers in churches, spread the word on Facebook and met with parents. They wanted to know if parental demand was really there – and it was.

But “one of their top questions was, ‘Are you going to have a scholarship?’ “ Welborn said. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Tests, school laundromats, black teachers and more

Testing in schools: The Florida Senate and House remain divided on how to reform the state’s standardized testing process. Both chamber’s bills push testing toward the end of the school year and direct the Department of Education to see whether national tests such as the SAT and ACT can be used in place of the Florida Standards Assessments. But the broader Senate bill would cut back on the number of exams taken overall, allow districts to administer the tests on paper instead of computers, and remove a requirement that teachers be evaluated in part on the results. The House bill doesn’t reduce the number taken, calls for most tests to be taken in the final three weeks of the school year, requires the results be returned to teachers within a week and sets specific instructions on how the results are reported. Orlando Sentinel.

School laundromats: Reducing personal problems as a means to academic success now includes doing laundry for students at some Lake County schools. Laundry rooms have been installed at Eustis Heights and Triangle Elementary schools as part of the district’s School Laundry Program, based on an initiative started in Fairfield, Calif. Students apply for entry into the program. If they’re accepted, they can drop off their laundry in the morning. It’s done by volunteers in time for the student to pick it up at the end of the school day. “The more we can take care of our students’ basic needs, the more we can take care of their academic needs,” said Eustis Heights principal Chad Frazier. Daily Commercial.

Impact of black teachers: Having one black teacher in third, fourth or fifth grade reduces low-income black boys’ probability of dropping out of high school by 39 percent, according to a study of 100,000 black elementary school students in North Carolina. WUSF. Education Week.

School repairs: Repair projects begin this summer at 10 Palm Beach County schools, says Superintendent Robert Avossa. The projects are being funded by a penny increase in the county’s sales tax, approved by voters in November. The school district gets half the money generated, which is expected to amount to about $650 million over 10 years. First up are weatherproofing at six schools and paving of parking lots, tracks and basketball courts at four schools. Sun-Sentinel. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Testing bills, naming rights, charters and more

Senate testing bills merged: The Senate Education Committee decides to merge elements from competing school testing bills. The consolidated bill, SB 926, moves testing into a shorter window and toward the end of the school year, kills several end-of-course exams, allows districts the option of using paper and pencils for the tests instead of computers, and will consider allowing national tests such as the ACT and SAT to replace high school assessments. News Service of Florida. Miami HeraldGradebook. Associated Press. Tallahassee Democrat. WFSU. The committee also approved bills increasing the money students get for tax credit scholarships and widening eligibility for teachers and adding principals to the state’s teacher bonuses program. Politico Florida. Meanwhile, the House PreK-12 Appropriations subcommittee approves a bill that would require the state Department of Education to release third- and 10th-grade math and language arts tests every three years. The DOE estimates the cost of doing so at $4 million. Gradebook. Politico Florida.

Help with testing: Experts say there are a variety of things parents can do to relieve their children’s anxiety about taking statewide assessment tests. They recommend helping children visualize success, maintaining a routine, having children not study so much and getting them to laugh, which gives a child’s brain a shot of neurotransmitter dopamine and can improve test performance. Miami Herald.

Naming rights: The Lee County School District is selling naming rights to stadiums, gymnasiums and theaters at several schools around the district. “This is a new opportunity for companies to reach our students, families and communities,” Superintendent Greg Adkins said. “It is a way we can provide companies the benefits and loyalty that come with this kind of support while helping out students at the same time.” The Orange County School District has been selling naming rights since 2012, and has raised $241,650 for its Athletic Preservation Fund. And Collier County, directly south of Lee, is also looking into the sale of naming rights at its seven high schools. Fort Myers News-Press. Continue Reading →


Fla. lawmakers propose opening virtual schools across district lines

A revised bill in the Florida Senate would allow students to attend virtual schools across district lines.

Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala

Sponsor Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, said the measure would extend the state’s new open-enrollment policy for public schools “into the virtual arena.”

A law passed last year allowed Florida parents to transport their students to any public school in the state that had room for them. An amendment to SB 868, which passed the Senate Education Committee unanimously today, would extend that policy to “virtual charter schools, and district virtual programs.”

Florida Virtual School functions like a statewide school district, enrolling students in online classes full- and part-time.

But supporters of the change said right now, geographic boundaries still apply to Florida’s other online learning options, like virtual charter schools, school district-run Virtual Instruction Programs and local FLVS franchises. Continue Reading →