Florida District Expands Online Program to Compete with Virtual School

Pasco eSchool is moving ahead with its expansion plans despite the fact that the Florida district is facing a severe funding crunch, writes Jeffrey S. Solochek in the Tampa Bay Times. This summer, the Pasco school district will spend close to $900,000 to create a summer program for the eSchool.

Although the move might not make financial sense at first glance, according to District Superintendent Kurt Browning, not investing in the virtual school could end up costing the district much more down the road. The reason is that starting next month, Pasco will be in direct competition for state funding dollars with the statewide Florida Virtual School. The district doesn’t want to lose the funding without at least putting up a fight.

With that in mind, the district has made a strong push to get students and their families interested in their local online alternative. It seems like the efforts are bearing fruit — according to the district’s numbers, more than 3,000 Pasco student have signed up for the eSchool’s summer program.

And Florida Virtual officials noticed. As the number of Pasco students dropping out of Florida Virtual courses to re-enroll in Pasco eSchool rose, the Orlando-based online school started to suggest that Pasco was denying choice to children and families.

Florida Virtual’s liaison to the district sent emails to eSchool principal Joanne Glenn pointedly questioning the changes.
Florida Virtual spokeswoman Star Kraschinsky said via email that questions from parents prompted the inquiry.

According to Glenn, nothing untoward is underway. Far from denying local students a choice, the district is broadening the options available to every Pasco family. Glenn complained about what she believes are strong-arm tactics from FLVS while denying that anyone is being pressured to select the local rather than the statewide online education alternative.

“I certainly don’t want any parents to feel they were strong-armed into taking our courses,” Glenn said. “I feel like, if we offer a great program and great access to our students, families are going to choose us.”

She also didn’t blame Florida Virtual for defending its turf.

The state virtual school has seen its course approvals flatten this summer, after years of steady growth, as districts react to the funding changes. Lawmakers made clear during session they did not want Florida Virtual to retain what they considered privileged status.

Pasco isn’t the only Florida district looking to keep more of its education funding by competing directly with FLVS. The Hillsborough school district – which so far has reported no conflict with FLVS administrators – expects to run into the same issue when it expands its own slate of online offerings this fall.