Friday, July 1, 2011

Gov. Rick Scott signs education choice bills

The five bills that passed allow:

• “High-performing” charter schools — public schools freed from some state rules — to increase their enrollment by adding additional grades or opening additional branches without local school board approval. Charter schools now serve about 6 percent of Florida’s 2.6 million public school students. Advocates say 32,000 students are on waiting lists for A-and-B rated charters.

• The Florida Virtual School to expand its offerings and other virtual providers to offer programs in Florida. The state virtual school, which now offers online middle and high school classes, can provide elementary school offerings. Kindergarten and first graders can enroll without any prior public school experience.

• Requires all students to take an online course to earn a high school diploma and guarantees that high-performing fourth and fifth-graders can take middle school courses; and for the first time, charter schools can provide online instruction.

• The McKay Scholarship program to offer tuition vouchers to a bigger pool of youngsters with disabilities. The program now provides taxpayer-financed scholarships, or tuition vouchers, to students with disabilities in the state’s “exceptional education” program and lets them leave a public school for a private one.

The new law allows students with “504 plans” to also apply. These students have a disability as defined under federal law but do not typically need the kinds of interventions or accommodations that students in the state’s “exceptional education” program need. There are more than 51,000 students with 504 plans in Florida schools.

• The Opportunity Scholarship program to expand its definition of “failing school,” giving more students the chance to transfer to better-performing public schools. The program allows transfers out of schools graded F two of the past four years.

• The Florida Tax-Credit Scholarship program to seek more contributions from corporations that would then be used to give private-school tuition vouchers to youngsters from low-income families. The program served more than 32,000 students this year.

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