The Role of Florida in Distance Learning

For years, the state of Florida has been a forerunner in our nation for advances in distance learning. Laws ensuring the right to home education (or homeschooling) became effective in 1985, and became the subject of much debate once Governor Jeb Bush began his school voucher and home education program. This program allows students to withdraw from a public school, and they are given a voucher (representing the tax money spent on their public education) which they can use to pay for private schooling, or home schooling. Many states have since adopted this program, and very recently Jeb Bush and the program itself have been the focus of a great deal of national scrutiny.

Supplies for home schooling, photo by Lyn Lomasi

This isn’t an opinion piece discussing if the program works or not, but this is a subject that affects all distance learns present and future, and I thought it needed a closer look.

Over sixty thousand children are currently being homeschooled in Florida, representing over forty thousand families. According to the letter of the law, these students are afforded everything traditional students are, from resources to access to future State sponsored college scholarships (the Bright Futures scholarship is one example).

According to the law, section 1002.41, for a parent to establish a home education program and stay in legal compliance with the statute, a parent must:

a. Send a written notice of intent to the school district superintendent.

b. Maintain a portfolio of records, consisting of a log of educational activities, writings, worksheets, and creative materials used or developed by the student

c. Make the portfolio available for inspection by the superintendent upon a 15-day notice. (The legislation does not require the superintendent to inspect all portfolios.)

d. Provide an annual educational evaluation for the student’s educational process to the school district superintendent.

e. Preserve each student’s portfolio for two years.

f. Submit a letter of termination upon completion of the home education program or change of residence

While there was some dislike of certain parts of the statute, overall it was well received for having such open verbiage, and being applicable to any student in Florida. This was a program that seemed to favor kids in bad schools – it gave their parents an option to move their kids to a better school, or just take over their education completely and do it how they saw best.

Initially, while Bush was in office, the program was a smashing success, and positively impacted graduation rates and reading levels. In the years since Bush has been out of office, those smashing numbers have come back down, and now people are questioning if the program was ever really that effective, and if those good numbers were just “spin.”

Critics of the legislation argue that it takes money away from the public school system, undermines teachers, and fosters an environment that favors for-profit private schools.

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