Putting Education Reform To The Test

Senate Seeking Compromise On Funding For Online Classes


The Florida House and Senate are working on bills that would allow students to choose from more online course providers. However, much of the debate has focused on money.

A Senate committee is attempting to defuse a funding dispute between the state-sponsored Florida Virtual School and private online providers.

Tuesday, the Rules Committee added an amendment to an online education bill asking the Florida Department of Education to study funding for online courses and to recommend changes by the end of the year.

The bill, S.B. 904, primarily provides students with more online choices and a greater ability to choose classes a la carte, possibly including large online courses offered for free by top universities. The Florida Department of Education or Florida University System chancellor would have to approve online course.

But most of the debate has focused on how online providers are paid.

Currently, if a student takes a course with a private online provider the funding is split with the school district based on how many courses each taught. If a student takes one course online during a six period day, the online school would receive one-sixth of the per-student funding.

The Florida Virtual School is different. If a student takes one course with the Florida Virtual School, the school district receives the full per-student funding and the Florida Virtual School receives its proportional share — so the total exceeds 100 percent of the per-student funding approved by lawmakers.

Private online schools say that’s an incentive for school districts to encourage students to choose the Florida Virtual School. Lawmakers want to cap per-student spending at what is allocated in the budget.

Florida Virtual School says the House proposal would mean a 14 percent cut to their total funding — or $36.2 million.

Virtual School chief policy officer Holly Sagues says that budget cut could mean increasing class sizes and eliminating some one-on-one sessions between teachers and students or parents and online group work sessions.

“This seems like a really methodical way to move forward with it,” Sagues says of the Senate amendment to study online school funding. “We just want to maintain the program we have.”


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