Updated: Jun 7
The legislative session which ended May 3 was unbelievable. Every issue that HEF has worked on over the past 20 years was under attack. There were bills to change Bright Futures Scholarships, Florida Virtual School, Transfer of Credit, early learning, common core, dual enrollment, the FHSAA and extracurricular activities, all of which were major issues for home educators. I also had language in a bill to try to clarify in statute that school districts had to provide special education services to home education students. Most of the issues had a very positive ending, but not without hours of work on your behalf.
Below is a brief summary of the issues.
Dual enrollment was limited during the 2012-13 academic year as a result of the Legislature passing a law in 2012 which gave state colleges the authority to limit dual enrollment courses for public school students based on capacity. It was not suppose to affect private school and home education students, but the state colleges decided to exercise their authority to limit courses equally for all students. The only way to correct the problem was to convince the legislators to remove the language added in 2012 which gave state colleges the authority to limit courses.
This whole battle was over money. Prior to the 2013 legislation both the school district and the state college were reporting public school dual enrollment students for state funding. The amount of state funding that colleges receive per course covers only about 50% of the cost. State colleges rely on tuition to cover the remainder of the cost per course. Since state law does not allow colleges to charge tuition for dual enrollment, colleges are forced to absorb the lost tuition for dual enrollment students. The 2012 legislation prohibited school districts from restricting access to dual enrollment courses for public school students and gave state colleges the authority to limit courses based on capacity. Following the Session, state colleges seized the opportunity to demand more money to pay the cost of dual enrollment by limiting the number of dual enrollment courses for all students and forcing the discussion.
The 2013 legislation removes the authority for state colleges to limit the number of courses based on capacity and requires the school district to pay the college tuition for public school students that take courses on the college campus. This is fair since the money goes to the institution that provides the instruction.
Theoretically, for home education and private school students, dual enrollment should return to the way it was prior to 2012. It may require a little education of Florida colleges, but private and home education students should be able to take as many courses as they can handle without paying tuition or fees*. As stated above, school districts will be required to pay the college tuition for public school students that take dual enrollment courses on the college campus, but home education and private school students will not be required to pay for their tuition under dual enrollment.
However, we now have an issue with access to the CPT and PERT which will have to be worked out over the next few months. I will update you when I have worked out some solution. Presently, at some Florida colleges, home education and private school students must take the SAT or ACT in order to qualify for dual enrollment.
HEF is working with the Department of Education Division of State Colleges to try to ensure that the Technical Assistance Memo that will be sent out to colleges concerning legislative changes will include clarification for home education and private school students in order to avoid having to clarify the issues at 28 different state colleges.
*Caution: HEF recommends that you not enroll your child for a full load the first semester in order to determine how well they handle college course since this will affect their college GPA.
The Florida Virtual School
The Florida Virtual School has been a great option for home education students. Many take their foreign language, math or AP courses through FLVS. Private virtual curriculum vendors have been fighting to capture a corner of the home education market since 2000 when they began courting home educators. However, Florida Virtual is not just a curriculum online, which is true of many of the private vendors. It is a school with certified teachers, who teach Algebra, Chemistry and foreign languages. Parents are not required to teach or be a Learning Coach in the Classic FLVS program.
Virtual education in Florida is very complex, but the bottom line is that most legislators do not understand the difference between digital curriculum and FLVS’s virtual interactive school. The Legislature wanted to significantly reduce the funding for all vendors, including FLVS, without recognizing the difference. With the help of home educators and students who had taken FLVS courses, we were able to convince the Legislature to increase the proposed funding.
Another issue clarified during this Session is that home educated students taking FLVS courses only have to verify their Florida residency at the time of enrollment in a course. The Auditor General determined in a 2011 audit that FLVS needed to verify Florida residency for a home education student and/or his parent at the beginning and at the successful completion of each course in order for FLVS to receive funding. This would have been difficult and time intensive for both FLVS and home educators.
However, language that was included in the conforming bill will severely limit public school students’ access to FLVS courses and this greatly concerns me. If FLVS is only serving home education and private school students, along with students in rural districts that cannot provide AP, various foreign languages and other non-core courses, the Legislature may decide to sell FLVS. Former Governor Jeb Bush has recommended that Florida sell FLVS to private investors. This would be a shame since Florida tax payers have built FLVS, no other virtual program comes close to providing the quality of FLVS courses and it is free to Florida students.
Bright Futures Scholarships
While there were several bills filed relative to Bright Futures Scholarships, the only change that was actually made was removing the eligibility requirement to submit a Free Application for Federal Student Aid.
Bright Futures Scholarship Awards per credit hour (or credit hour equivalent) for the 2013-2014 academic year shall be as follows:Academic Scholars4-Year Institutions……………………………………….. 2-Year Institutions……………………………………….. Upper-Division Programs at Florida Colleges……. Career/Technical Centers……………………………….$110 $67 $76 $55Medallion Scholars4-Year Institutions……………………………………….. 2-Year Institutions……………………………………….. Upper-Division Programs at Florida Colleges……. Career/Technical Centers……………………………….$83 $67 $56 $42Gold Seal Vocational ScholarsCareer Certificate Program……………………………. Applied Technology Diploma Program……………… Technical Degree Education Program……………….$39 $39 $48
The additional stipend for Top Scholars shall be $47 per credit hour.
Florida Resident Assess Grant (FRAG) (A supplement for students attending a private college or university.)
Award at institutions that were qualified in 2010-11… $2500/ student Award at institutions that qualified after 2010-11……. $2071/ student
Transfer of Credit
After the 2012 Legislative Session, we found out that the Dept. of Education passed a new Transfer of Credit rule. The new rule requires any student that transfers into the public school system after 8th grade, who wants to receive credit in the course and earn a standard diploma, to pass Florida’s End of Course (EOC) assessments in Algebra 1, Geometry and Biology 1.
The 2013 Legislature realized that all students may not go to college and began to focus on STEM careers. The Legislature created a pathway for graduation which would allow students to earn credits toward Industry Certifications. Therefore, the graduation requirements were revised in CS/CS/SB 1076 for a standard diploma. The Standard Diploma in a public school will require passage of only two End of Course exams. Included in the new law is a provision that specifies that any student, including a home education or a private school student, who transfers into a public school after 8th grade and wants to earn a standard high school diploma, must take and pass the Algebra 1 EOC and the 10th grade FCAT Reading or earn a concordant score on the SAT or ACT until an English Language Arts EOC is developed.
During the Session, HEF contacted the Florida Director of AdvancED SACS to inquire about AdvancED SACS on this legislation. The Director informed me that they were watching the bill and that AdvancED SACS was working on a new Transfer of Credit policy. On June 6, 2013, I received the new Transfer of Credit policy from the Florida Director of AdvancED SACS. It does contain the language from the old policy but does not contain the requirement to take the two EOCs.
The Department of Education will revise the 2012 Rule based on the new law created by SB 1076. HEF will have to make sure that the DOE revised the Transfer of Credit rule allowing home education and private school students to have their credits accepted on face value or through a validation process that was in Rule prior to last summer and is in the new AdvancED SACS policy. This will be an ongoing issue as the requirements for graduation from a public school continue to change.
Your first thought might be that Early Learning is not of interest to home educators. However, since the Voluntary Pre-kindergarten Constitutional amendment passed in 2004, a few of us have been fighting an army of advocates whose primary desire is to create a Division of Early Learning in the Department of Education for children birth through age four. They fought for years in various bills and in various ways to mandate that a quality child care rating system be created and that a 5-Star program have all state-certified teachers. If the Division had been created, then the DOE would advocate for all children from birth to 4. Hopefully, you can see how this issue would ultimately lead to requiring all parents to be state-certified teachers or institutionalizing their pre-K children.
Thankfully, after having announced that there would be a Division of Early Learning at the DOE with a Chancellor, the House Education Committee changed its position and decided to keep it as an Office of Early Learning (OEL) with an Executive Director to administer the School Readiness Program (SRP) and the Voluntary Prekindergarten Program (VPK). Both the SRP and VPK are really choice programs because children ages 0-5 are not required to attend school. Somehow, the Education Committee Chair, Rep. Marlene O’Toole, was very successful in getting all the advocates on board. However, when the bill went over to the Senate Education Committee, Chair John Legg, insisted that he wanted the OEL to be placed within the Office of Independent Education and Parental Choice, with an Executive Director for birth through 4 choice programs and a separate Executive Director for K-12 Choice programs. He would not budge and was willing to allow the bill to die if he did not get this one change to the House bill. Either placement would have been better than a Division of Early Learning, but the House finally agreed to give him the placement for the programs that he wanted and the bill passed.
After 10 Sessions, the Office of Early Learning finally has a placement. This will most likely become a permanent placement. Even if federal programs with strings attached are accepted in order to receive funding, it won’t be as easy to expand to All children. It won’t be as bad as it would have been if The Race To The Top Early Learning grant had been administered under a Division of Early Learning. Home schooling parents without state certification can breathe easy for at least a few more years.
Since the Session ended, the new Commissioner of Education, Dr. Toni Bennett, has made public that he wants to re-organize the Department of Education. HEF will have to keep an eye on what he plans to do.
Special Education Services (ESE) for Home Education Students
HEF has been working since June 2008 to make sure that home education students with disabilities receive the services that they deserve at a public school. See the history in the article on the HEF website: http://flhef.org/library/202-ese-for-home-educators It seemed that HEF had achieved that goal this Session. However, the language in SB 1108 would have made it mandatory for school districts to provide for home education students. The home education provision was in the bill until the final reading on the Senate Floor. It was amended out of the bill in order to get the rest of the bill passed.
Senator Gardiner tried to keep it in the bill, but the House appropriation determined that the cost would be too great and he could not convince the House appropriation committee otherwise. After I found out that there was such a huge estimated cost attached to the bill in the House, I asked the DOE Office of Independent Education to survey the school districts to find out how many districts were already providing ESE serves to home educated students with disabilities. The House had just applied the same percentage to home education students as the percentage of public school students being served. Even though the result of that survey was that the percentage was much smaller than the House had estimated, they would not change their mind.
The good thing is that we now have language that we can use to show the school districts how to apply for funding if they choose to serve home education students. HEF will try to get this language in another bill in another year. Hopefully, we can eventually get this language in law so that every child that needs extra help to reach his/her full potential can get those services at their public school.
Here is the language that was in the bill.
1002.41 Home education programs.— (10) A school district shall provide exceptional student education-related services, as defined in State Board of Education rule, to a home education program student with a disability who is eligible for the services and who enrolls in a public school for the purpose of receiving those related services. The school district providing the services shall report each such student as a full-time equivalent student in a manner prescribed by the Department of Education, and funding shall be provided through the Florida Education Finance Program pursuant to s. 1011.62.
There is much work left to do when the laws begin to be implemented. Some require Administrative Rules or DOE Memos. The FHSAA will also be reviewing their policies as a result of legislation that passed and bills that did not pass. HEF will be following all of these over the summer and fall to make sure your rights are protected. HEF will provide you with updates as they happen.