More students could learn from a laptop in their bedroom rather than a whiteboard in a brick-and-mortar classroom under a pair of proposals in the Florida Legislature that would dramatically expand virtual school.
The most immediate change: Starting next year, students entering high school would have to take at least one online course to graduate.
Scores of students across the state already take Internet-based classes, often to make up credits for courses they found difficult. Particularly in rural counties, students turn to the Web for more exotic courses — such as Latin or Mandarin Chinese — that are not available at their schools.
But up to now, Florida has not required students to go online, though some districts have pushed Internet-based courses to save money on teachers and classrooms.
When Miami-Dade and Broward could not meet class-size caps this year, schools steered students to virtual learning, with mixed results. Among high schoolers who visited the state Capitol last month to protest budget cuts, one of the chief complaints was not getting to choose which classes they took online — such as physical education — and which ones they took sitting in front of a teacher.
Yet proponents say the push to grow online education is not fueled by cost-cutting. Instead, their goal is to give students more choices with technology — a longtime goal of former Gov. Jeb Bush, who while in office ushered in aggressive reforms.
Last year, about 21,000 — less than 1 percent — of the state’s 2.6 million public-school students took part in online education. That was an uptick from the previous year, and with enrollment projected to grow, virtual school is one of the only items in the House and Senate education budget proposals with increased funding.
Bush’s education foundation has taken up the mantel for the former governor’s cause in Tallahassee. It took part in a news conference Thursday to promote the legislation, which cleared its first Senate committee earlier this week.
“We’re walking around with BlackBerrys, with cell phones, with iPods, iPads,” Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, told reporters. “The only place, unfortunately, where that technology has not been fully embraced is in our education system.”
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