Archive | Virtual Education

HB 7069 lifts Florida’s last remaining virtual education restrictions

Gov. Rick Scott signed a major education bill last week that, in addition to equalizing funding for Florida charter schools, also removes the state’s last remaining restrictions on virtual education eligibility for elementary school students.

HB 7069 also eliminates geographic boundaries for virtual education and creates statewide open enrollment for virtual charter schools.

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

Under existing laws, students in second through fifth grades can’t enroll in virtual courses part-time. Children in middle and high school can only take certain part-time courses if they were enrolled in public schools the previous years. Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: Schools of hope compromise, budget and more

Schools of hope: A compromise on the “schools of hope” bill is drawing support from previously opposed Democratic lawmakers. The $200 million measure was introduced by the House to offer incentives to highly regarded charter school companies to open schools in areas where traditional public schools are persistently low performing. While details of the compromise are not known, some Democrats involved in the process say it’s a mixture of the original House bill and a Senate suggestion that more money be made available to public schools before charters are recruited. “I think we’re 80 percent there” on a final compromise, says House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes. Miami HeraldPolitico FloridaWFSU. Teachers and education activists protest the legislation at a news conference in Tampa. “Diverting $200 million in our taxpayer money away from our children’s public schools to unaccountable private companies is a terrible plan,” said Michelle Prieto, coordinator for the group Mi Familia Vota. Florida Politics.

Budget agreement: Senate and House leaders announce a deal on an $83 billion budget that blends the educational priorities of both chambers. Details are being worked out in conference committee. Associated PressPolitico Florida. Public school leaders make a last-minute push for more K-12 funding. Politico Florida.

Virtual open enrollment: The House passes a bill allowing Florida students to attend any virtual charter school in the state that is authorized by a school district. Right now, students can only attend the virtual school in the district in which they live. Many consider the bill as the natural extension of the state’s new open enrollment law, which allows any student to attend any public school that has space available. redefinED. Continue Reading →

Bills would create open enrollment for Florida virtual charter schools

Florida students might soon be able to attend virtual charter schools authorized by any school district in the state, no matter where they live.

The potential change has moved through the Legislature with ease, though it remains unresolved as the annual lawmaking session approaches its May 5 end date.

A bill that passed the House this week on an overwhelming 115-1 vote would extend the state’s public-school open enrollment law to virtual charters.

The open-enrollment law, passed last year, allows parents to transport their children to any public school in the state that has room for them.

But separate laws govern virtual charters and district-controlled virtual instruction programs, which are local virtual schools run by private online learning companies. Continue Reading →

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 →