Virtual home schooling
Because Florida senators generated so much heat over a proposed parent trigger bill in the Sunshine State, it was easy to look past their vote that eliminated the requirement for students to first enroll in a public school before entering an online learning program. But while they didn’t pull the trigger, lawmakers did blur the lines separating home schooling and public schooling.
This is a step other states should consider if they want to rethink the way they govern public education in the 21st century.
If Governor Rick Scott signs the state’s digital learning bill, as expected, students in grades K-5 then could bypass a brick-and-mortar school and directly enroll full-time in a virtual instruction program, whether that program is managed by the Florida Virtual School, a virtual charter academy, or a school district. Previously, students were required to attend a full year in a traditional school prior to their full-time enrollment in an online program. Removing that requirement is a significant step for policy makers, as they’re making little distinction between those who are learning at home and those who are “home schooled.” That’s a step other states should consider if they want to rethink the way they govern public education in the 21st century.
The bill had the support of Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Florida’s Future and passed by a collective 136-19 vote in the Republican-controlled legislature. The margin of victory was surprising, given that a fiscal analysis determined that the measure would cost the state money ($1.8 million the first year, increasing thereafter) at a time when lawmakers were hunting for savings. The fiscal impact, however, is nominal given the options this makes available for parents who want their children to learn at home but don’t have the money or expertise to develop and deliver a curriculum.
For critics who argue that online learning should remain an option only for public school students, consider that home school families in Florida who skip the neighborhood school in favor of virtual school must now, under this bill, be assessed with the same accountability measures administered at public schools. Faced with that requirement, many home schooling families will say, No thanks. Those who do will benefit from a professionally developed curriculum. Moreover, taxpayers have transparency and the state takes another step toward organizing a public education system by dropping barriers and boundaries erected last century.
Category: Charters & Choice
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About the Editor
Director, Program on Parental Choice
Adam Emerson is the Thomas B. Fordham Institute’s school choice czar, directing the Institute’s policy program on parental choice and editing the Choice Words blog. He coordinates the Institute’s school choice-related research projects, policy analyses and commentaries on issues that include charter schools and public school choice along with school vouchers, homeschooling and digital learning.
May 16, 2013
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