Changes in state and federal law since the late 1990s have greatly expanded parent and student choices. With Gov. Rick Scott's blessing, the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature this year opened the doors for more students to attend private schools with taxpayer assistance, writes Linda Trimble at news-journalonline.com.
"I think what the whole movement has done is get parents more involved in their children's education," said state Sen. Evelyn Lynn, an Ormond Beach Republican and former senior administrator for Volusia County schools.
"We're beginning to see different children have different needs. As an educator, I want what works for children."
Now, students can take online classes as early as kindergarten and must take some in high school, writes Trimble. These online classes can allow students to improve career skills and even work towards college credit while still in high school. Taxpayer-funding also opens the door for students to access scholarships for private schools, or transfers from one public school to another.
"Kindergarten age children should not be excluded from the virtual learning world simply because of their age and developmental levels," writes Jackie at kindergartenonlinecurriculum.com.
"A good online curriculum delivers content in varied learning styles because no two children learn the exact same way. Some kids are very visual/auditory while others might be visual/tactile. Advances in technology have revolutionized the way people learn. In choosing online programs, finding programs and tools that acknowledge variations in individual learning styles will go a long way in providing an effective learning experience."
Virtual classes allow students to complete their courses online, continues Trimble.
The Volusia and Flagler school districts serving more than 1,200 students last school year while offering their own virtual programs. And hundreds more took classes through the statewide Florida Virtual School.
Florida students, depending on their grade level, can take online courses for part or all of their educational program. Starting with this year's incoming freshmen, high school students are going to have to take part in and complete at least one virtual class.
Carol Downing, coordinator of online learning for Volusia schools, expects the numbers of online courses taken to continue to climb as students and parents alike learn more about positives of online learning.
"We want to provide as many options as possible for students to succeed," Downing said.
Florida students with disabilities or those from low-income families to attend private schools with taxpayer assistance, thanks to two state scholarship programs.
McKay Scholarships worth $148.6 million allowed more than 22,000 students with disabilities to attend private schools in 2010-11. Enrollment is expected to grow this year after lawmakers expanded the eligibility criteria for the program, writes Trimble.
"A second state scholarship program that served more than 33,000 students from low-income families last school year is financed by dollar-for-dollar corporate tax credits for participating businesses. Lawmakers raised the cap for that program from $140 million to $175 million this year, so enrollment is expected to grow."