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.

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