State lawmakers could strip Florida virtual school access from district franchises

A handful of influential education bills are currently before the Florida Legislature, including one that could change the future of virtual learning in the state.

State lawmakers are considering a proposal this would prevent school districts from franchising the Florida Virtual School program.

As part of the House education budget, districts would be required to pay more for FLVS Global content — or find other sources for virtual classes, which are mandatory for all students.

JoAnne Glenn is the founder and director of Pasco eSchool.

She said her school offers 78 classes and another 152 through Florida Virtual School. The proposal could dramatically increase the cost of a virtual class in Florida from $50 per student to $220 per student, Glenn said.

The school is working on contingency plans, but it said “the prospect of developing the other two-thirds (of courses) in four months is a bit daunting”.

She added that the change would put Pasco and other school districts in a tough spot.

“We are still required to offer virtual instruction,” she said. “And one of the most cost-effective and powerful tools in the toolbox is being retired. That will leave districts scrambling to get it in place for the next school year.”

The author of the proposal, Randy Fine, a Republican representative from Palm Bay, said the program was expensive. Not only does the state pay Florida Virtual School for the classes, but the districts also receive money for their virtual classes.

Florida high school students must complete a virtual course before they can graduate. Currently, these courses are available through Florida Virtual School — and district-run franchises.

Glenn, who opened the Pasco program in 2009, said the proposal could force franchises like his to pay more for Florida Virtual Global content, or look elsewhere for replacement materials.

“It’s unfair and frustrating as a leader who kind of has this historical perspective to see what comes down to someone who comes to a traditional school and kind of like the Grinch who breaks in and pulls out all the textbooks and all the whiteboards and everything,” she says.

That could lead to districts offering fewer classes, forcing students to take the larger but more crowded statewide curriculum.

“I’m concerned that if more enrollment is funneled to Florida Virtual School which already struggles to meet demand at times, we could see children denied placement or whose academic progress is delayed by being stuck on a waiting list.”

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