Expansion Of Charter, Virtual Schools Poised To Become Law

May 5, 2011

The Legislature on Wednesday approved two major education reform proposals that authorize significant expansion of charter and virtual schools.

But advocates for public schools say the measures drain dollars away from traditional schools, favoring charter schools and virtual programs which do not have to meet the same rigorous standards as public schools.

Only Gov. Rick Scott’s signature stands in the way of the bills becoming law and all indications are that he will likely sign them. “These bills expand choices for students and their parents, giving them a chance to get the education that best suits the needs of the student,” said Scott spokesman Lane Wright.

Increasing options for parents beyond traditional public schools is a high priority of Republicans, who are expanding upon a legacy of school reforms that began with Gov. Jeb Bush in the late 1990s.

Indeed, Bush weighed in over Twitter on the passage of the bills on Wednesday, as the legislative session enters its last couple of days.

“Florida is one step closer to transforming education for 21st century,” Bush said, using Twitter shorthand, on Wednesday. “Thanks to Florida’s leaders for expanding access to customized education.”

The charter school bill (SB 1546), passed by the House in a 87-27 predominantly party-line vote, establishes a system that allows highly rated charter schools to expand enrollment and add new grades without having to seek approval from school districts. A school that has received an “A” or “B” grade in the last three years would qualify as highly rated. It also grants these schools longer 15-year charters.

The virtual school bill (HB 7197), passed the Senate in a 27-12 predominantly party-line vote, and allows charter schools to offer full-time or part-time virtual school classes, if approved by the school district.

It also requires all high school students to take one online class prior to graduation and permits children as young as five to take full-time virtual classes paid for with state funds. It expands the number of grades the Florida Virtual School offers and requires districts to offer more virtual instruction programs.

Bill sponsor Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, said it promotes the kind of interactions children are used to – on computers and the Internet. “It’s a step in the right direction to make sure that we as the adults catch up to the way our kids are learning,” Flores said. Many Democrats suggested it was unfair to push technology on to students who may not have equal exposure to computers at home.

Some critics of online education also question the quality of instruction, with tales of students taking open-book exams and copying homework answers from the Internet. Virtual schools say they have stringent quality standards.

Even some Republicans marveled at the wide-ranging impact of the virtual school bill.

“I wish that the increase to virtual schools would have been more modest,” said Sen. Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland.

During debate on the charter school expansion, Democrats said they were troubled by the push to increase charter schools rather than help failing public schools. “This bill takes away from traditional public schools and gives an unfair advantage to charter schools,” said Rep. Cynthia Stafford, D-Miami.

Rep. Joe Gibbons, D-Hallandale Beach, said the bill carves out favors for charter schools. “We need to fund low-performing schools,” Gibbons said, not make it easier for charter schools to expand.

But Republicans said the bill rewards charter schools that are performing well.

“The reason I like this bill is because it allows us to copy success,” said Rep. Daniel Davis, R-Jacksonville. “There are good charter schools and there are bad charter schools. We are able to emulate the good charter schools.”

A common criticism of using state funds to support private, virtual or charter schools is that they are not held to the same standards as public schools in terms of testing, class sizes, merit pay and other requirements.

Florida School Board Association Executive Director Wayne Blanton said “as long as everybody is on a level playing field,” these expansion plans are fair. But Blanton said public schools are subjected to more oversight.

For instance, the new teacher merit pay law may not apply to some teachers of virtual programs.

The virtual school bill permits hiring of adjunct instructors, who are exempted from the new merit pay law that requires tying teacher pay to test scores, according to Florida Education Association lobbyist Ron Meyer.

“Once again, while the public schools in Florida are held to prescribed standards, charter, voucher and virtual schools – all of which are funded with public dollars – are not required to meet the same standards,” Meyer said.

By Lilly Rockwell
The News Service of Florida


3 Responses to “Expansion Of Charter, Virtual Schools Poised To Become Law”

  1. Lisa T on May 6th, 2011 9:25 am

    If school districts were doing their job in first place this would not be necessary. Public schools are not with the times welcome to the 21st century. Virtual education is much cheaper to facilitate so, maybe they should get on the internet instead of trying to do what scientific research clearly states getting preached by teachers that only ask study for a test is not learning. Urban districts are corrupt and support mediocrity (I can speak as an urban teacher and parent) so, if it is broke (which it is) fix it!! Virtual education has been used even for credit recovery so, maybe that it is the route to go!

  2. David Huie Green on May 5th, 2011 6:12 pm

    “anything that drains the school system gets passed.
    How much more do we take away from our public school systems that are already in trouble”

    The idea isn’t to give money to the school system but to educate children. Any hope for support of the citizenry should be based on that. If the public school system can do it better, blow that trumpet. If they can succeed with more money, convince the taxpayers.

    Decent, caring parents aren’t going to send their children to get a worse education just to support a “system” if the public school system isn’t educating children better than available alternatives. That doesn’t mean we should just keep alternatives unavailable.

    Folks should recognize some children won’t be well served by charter schools or virtual schools and that some proof of effectiveness is needed for all of them. (Unlike the people who want to do away with standardized testing because they think it makes them look bad when they do poorly.)

    Some kids won’t do well no matter what anybody does because they just won’t listen and won’t let others listen. How to deal with them is a continuing problem. Charter schools tend to deal with them by kicking them out, considering the education of the other kids important too.

    The absolute worst thing about virtual schools is the lack of need for buses and bus drivers.

    David pondering how
    to fix THAT flaw

  3. Kay on May 5th, 2011 7:42 am

    Ridiculous again anything that drains the school system gets passed.
    How much more do we take away from our public school systems that
    are already in trouble with funding because of the promised Lotto money
    which was just superseded by cuts in other places in the school budget.

    A twit using twitter why am I not surprised.

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