Florida Policymakers Innovate with Online Learning

florida online learning

The 2013 Florida legislature has adjourned having made a couple improvements to one of the best education codes in the country (according to Digital Learning Now!).

Affordable College. Florida has embraced a goal of 90,000 degrees per year by 2025–up from 53,000 now. The plan is to close the gap with online learning and improved graduation rates at existing institutions. This week, Governor Scott blocked planned tuition hike, but he also vetoed a study on expand digital learning and utilizing MOOCs.

The Legislature appropriated $15 million, including $5 million recurring for five years, to the University of Florida to develop a robust offering of high quality, fully-online, four-year baccalaureate degrees. The law establishes an advisory board under the Board of Governors to guide implementation. House Speaker Will Weatherford is pressing for learning experiences at an affordable cost.

The law also requires online tuition to be about 75% of on-campus tuition and limits fees for full-time online students. It could cost as little as $15k for an online degree compared to $25k on campus–plus room and board. (For more see SB 1076, page 117, line 3370 to page 124, line 3579.)

The legislature also funded the Complete Florida Degree Program which was created last year but not funded. The program, led by the University of West Florida, calls for the use of online learning and competency-based learning, including prior learning assessments, to help students complete their degrees more quickly. (For more see SB 1076, page 129, line 3730)

Florida school districts will pay for dual enrollment when students take courses at local colleges (there are also provisions for college classes in the high school). It’s possible that the change will reduce dual enrollment offerings, but reluctance on the part of high schools to pay for courses may be more than offset by expanded student access to an online course catalog including college credit opportunities.

K-12 Course Choice.  HB 7029 requires the Department of Education to create a statewide catalogue of online courses, allows students to take courses across school district lines, requires blended courses to be identified so it is possible to measure and compare achievement across instructional models, initiates a process to approve individual courses instead of just providers, and requires a study to determine how to expand online learning, including the use of massive open online courses and prior learning assessments.

All virtual providers will now be able to provide courses above the six period day (currently just Florida Virtual School), however students will still be funded at the same amount (1.0 FTE).  Per course funding will be prorated based upon the number of courses an individual student takes.  This means students will have greater access to courses from more providers, yet all providers may receive less funding per course than they previously did. This new calculation is arguably more fair, but will results in another budget cut for FLVS (read more here).

HB 7009 allows school districts to establish district innovation school of technology (blended learning schools) –. The schools have to apply using standard blended definitions, the gain exemptions from same rules as charters (e.g., class size).  There is limit on how many schools allowed but it’s an opportunity to create some proof points for blended learning.  (Gov Scott hasn’t acted on 7029 and 7009.)

SB 1514 requires the Department of Education to set standards for bandwidth and devices(line 490-495). SB 1500 gives flexibility to school districts to use $165 million in instructional materials funding for devices and technological infrastructure–a big deal for a big statewide textbook adoption state. The Legislature appropriated $11.3 million for district bandwidth support and $6 million for wireless grants for rural school districts.


Deirdre Finn and the ExcelinEd team contributed to this post.  ExcelinEd and FLVS are Getting Smart Advocacy Partners. 

Getting Smart Staff

The Getting Smart Staff believes in learning out loud and always being an advocate for things that we are excited about. As a result, we write a lot. Do you have a story we should cover? Email [email protected]

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