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Florida Virtual School Slated For Big Budget Hits


The Florida Virtual School is bracing for an impending budget cut as a result of changes in the state funding formula. The move also has school districts on edge as they also eye a drop in funding as a result of changes proposed in the state’s 2013 budget plan.

Although it exists mostly in cyberspace, Florida Virtual School is its own school district in the state’s budget. And it gets a certain amount of money based on the number of students enrolled. But because it has no buildings, it gets less money than the rest of the school districts. This year, Florida Virtual is expecting a 20 percent increase in the number of kids it serves. At the same time though, its funding could soon be capped if a student decides to take a virtual course outside of their normal six-credit hour day in their regular school:

“What they’ve indicated is that our budget is going up nine million dollars, or four-percent. But our student enrollment goes up 20 percent. When you factor a 20 percent in growth and only a four-percent increase in funding, it’s a $35 million loss.” 

Julie Young is the President and CEO of Florida Virtual School. Its annual budget is around $200 million. She says the policy shift would affect the majority of students who enroll at Florida Virtual. Those are part-time students seeking to take a 7th class. Some of them are taking make-up course outside the regular school day and others may be trying to get ahead or take a class not offered at their regular school. Young says the effect of the cut will lead to larger class sizes and fewer course offerings at the 15-year-old Florida Virtual.

“Just in the last two years, school districts [have been] actually be willing to step outside their comfort zone. And now that they’ve gotten the hang of it and made it available to their kids, the state is coming back and saying, ‘well now we can’t afford it,'" she said.

Florida Virtual relies on its partnerships with traditional school districts. And those districts have also been running the numbers on potential losses from the funding change as well. In fact, when Broward County 9th grader Naman Thackar went to enroll in an Advanced Placement computer class at Florida Virtual for the Summer, he was turned down by his home school:

“The guidance counselor has to approve it. She told me to take it through Broward Virtual. But when I went to sign up the memo said the class was either not available or there was no space for the class. Then we called the principal and we got the course approved.” he said.

Broward Virtual School partners with Florida Virtual and BVS Principal Chris McGuire says there could have been miscommunication between district officials and the local schools.

"I think where the breakdown is the school is thinking is that they’re not allowed to approve enrollment to Florida Virtual School which has never been communicated to our school. At all.”  

In Namen’s case, McGuire says districts don’t like students taking summer AP courses because they can’t take the course credit tests until the Spring. State law says districts can’t stop kids from enrolling in Florida Virtual. But a handful of similar situations have emerged in counties like Pinellas, Pasco and Santa Rosa. McGuire says he thinks school districts may be postponing virtual school enrollment until the budget picture becomes clearer.

“We’re getting spoon-fed bits and pieces of information out of Tallahassee and we’ve not seen anything in writing about what the impact will be, how this will work from a financial perspective and when the law takes effect.”  

The budget change would happen July first. McGuire says districts are concerned because they’ve never had to share funding with Florida Virtual School before. Under the budget change, Florida Virtual School would receive 1/7 of what it normally gets for teaching students who take extra online classes. A school district would get 6/7 of its normal funding for the same student. The change would cost the Pasco School District about  $2 million, less than half a percent of its budget. District officials say they did initially hold off on registering students for Florida Virtual last month, but have now resumed registration.

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Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas.  She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. 

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