Distance Learning in Florida – Why the Sunshine State is the Pioneer in the Field

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Distance Learning in Florida – Why the Sunshine State is the Pioneer in the Field

The USA is often seen as an inspiring country for distance education, online education and home study. Here in the UK we may have the perennially popular institution, the Open University, but across the pond the recession has not only seen the number of online degree courses increase, to the point of being advertised on prime time television, but home education has long been accepted as a normal alternative means for an education of any age, especially in certain areas. As a result, as kids get older, the idea of ​​distance learning isn’t nearly as foreign as it seems to those here — and Florida is the state leading the way.

The government of Florida as king of e-Learning started in 1997 with the creation of the Florida Virtual School. Founded by Julie Young, the online middle and high school is free for children who live in one of the state’s 67 counties (it is funded by taxes), but is also available to those outside the county on a tuition basis. The school currently offers courses ranging from maths and science to such obscure subjects as Latin, Global Studies and Driver Education – currently serving over 30,000 students.

However, the institution’s popularity is not only reflected in popularity statistics and numbers. Ironically, in 2009, when e-Learning is one of the only sectors that is doing well from the recession, the government has announced that they want to cut up to 15 percent of the budget of Florida Virtual School. As a result, this proposal has caused an uproar among parents, teachers and students – with the St. Petersburg Times quotes one Floridian: “When I talk to people in other states (about online education), they say, ‘We want to be like Florida.’ “But Florida doesn’t. That’s the irony of the whole thing, isn’t it?”

Interestingly, this is not an isolated incident where the public in Florida has demonstrated the dependence on the Virtual School. The institution hit the news last month also as (reported by cfnews.com) 7 year old girl took it upon herself to change a state law to ensure that she can study there. Jessica Howard realized that the newly imposed law (where students who want to enroll at FVS must have attended public school for a year before they can do so) was unfair, and with the help of her mother started a petition to stop it that she since received more than 1000 signatures including that of Republican Governor Charlie Crist.

Despite the reputation that has grown in recent years, the Florida Virtual School will become even more important for the students of the state. At naplesnews.com Young described how the “school is bracing for an increase in demand for online courses as some Florida districts look to reduce course offerings due to budget cuts.” However, in the meantime, the most recent news the public may have gained is when it comes to funding, as the latest news story from the St Petersburg Times (May 13) states that the state will receive $1.8 billion in stimulus money for education.

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