Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.
- Mahatma Ghandi

Welcome to LIFE of Florida!

Our secular and inclusive Florida-wide Informal Education support group acts as a resource center and clearinghouse for homeschoolers, informal learners and alternative educators interested in enriching their learning environments and maximizing their learning opportunities, as well as an advocacy center for Curiosity Driven Learning.

There is no cost to be part of LIFE of Florida -- just join in at our email discussion and announcement list, Florida LIFE, where you can download your membership card -- good for educational discounts throughout FL -- and stay informed and updated on events, issues and resources, and connect with other informal learners throughout the state.

If you're just getting started in homeschooling, be sure to check out our LIFE of Florida Quick Links, our list of Useful Docs, and our enormous collection of resources in the side columns, and visit our Inclusive Homeschool Support Groups page to find a group near you.

If you'd like your regional inclusive support group to be networked with LIFE of Florida, drop us a line with a group description, contact and other relevant information and we'll add you, free of charge, to our directory. All your group members will be automatically considered members of LIFE of Florida, and are entitled to membership cards and all the benefits we offer. Virtual school families are also welcome to enjoy our resources, support and camaraderie.

We're all inclusive and free of charge, and we're here for you!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Media Hype to the Contrary - Homeschooling not Threatened in FL

It was just a matter of time before local media tried to capitalize on legal problems three time zones away, but Tampa Bay 10 finally gave it a shot. In Ruling rattles homeschool parents (although it hasn't, as far as we've been able to tell -- a non-problem Tampa Bay 10 is evidently out to fix!), a local homeschooled parent is used to lend a little insight to homeschooling in FL, and then the inevitable tie-in is made.

“(Foisi) like thousands of families in the United States, has chosen to home school her children. She feels that along with a tailored lesson plan, she can monitor their behavior.

“Now that right has been challenged.”

No it hasn't. Our right to homeschool in FL has not been "challenged" in the least.

Media hype to the contrary, the CA homeschooling case has nothing whatever to do with homeschooling in FL, nor in most other states.

We operate under a clear set of homeschooling laws in FL, whereas CAs lack of clear laws in the issue there. Further, the case is more problematic for private schools than for homeschools anyway.

Second, "thousands" of homeschoolers is a bit of an understatement; There are 55,000 homeschoolers in FL alone, and at least hundreds of thousands and more likely millions -- probably at or above 2 million in the US today.

Which leads to, third, the "constitutionality" of homeschooling. The 10th amendment is the usually accepted articulation of our right to direct our children's education.

And the proof of the success and value of that right is clear in the overall success of homeschooled children over the past 30 years, with homeschooled youth overwhelmingly succeeding in college, business, and positions of leadership and stewardship.

I would counsel that, rather than succumbing to sensationalist press attempting to connect dots that don't exist, and creating a crisis of speculation,that folks take the time to educate themselves about homeschooling and other forms of parent directed education.

Rather than talking about "going underground", perhaps homeschoolers and those who work with us should consider pounding the pavement with the message of family involvement in a world that needs intentional living more than ever.

Theresa Willingham
LIFE of Florida
http://LIFEofFlorida.blogspot.com

Thursday, March 20, 2008

From Home Education Foundation: Bright Futures Bill Update

You can view a video of the Bright Futures bill portion of the March 18 DOE meeting , starting at about the 45 measure mark.

I'm grateful for the opportunity for Bright Futures, but think it should be available for all with the same bottom line : a test score. If the DOE feels the test score is too low, then raise it -- for everyone, equally. My thoughts, anyway.

At any rate, HEFs update is below.

Terri Willingham
LIFE of Florida
___________________________________

From Brenda Dickinson, Home Education Foundation
http://www.flhef.org

HB 957 was up in Committee on Tuesday and passed unanimously. Please
remember that this bill contains nothing new; it is simply codifying,
in statute, what is already in place for home education students to
qualify for the Bright Futures Scholarships.

Some of you may be wondering why HEF would find sponsors for a Bright
Futures bill in a year when anything that has a fiscal impact is being
cut. Our motivation was not to gain new rights but to preserve those
that we have. It was only after much evaluation, counsel, and anxiety
that we decided to move forward.

The bills that Rep. Kendrick and Sen. Wise are sponsoring do not
change the eligibility requirements for home education students for
the Medallion Scholarship, and they were never intended to do that. I
was very concerned that even bringing the subject up for debate at
this time could cause us to lose one of the ways to qualify for the
Medallion Scholarship. So, I moved forward building support before
getting sponsors for the bill. I got commitments from people who have
the ability to control the bill so that if we ran into any problems,
we could let the bill die on the calendar.

That was the first protection. I then got DOE on board so they would
not be in opposition. I began to craft my argument as to why we
needed this bill so that no one could perceive that this would cost
any more money.

After feeling comfortable that home educated students would not lose
ground, I began to try to get this bill moving. I feel it is
important to pass this bill in order to clarify it in statute for
future Legislatures.

Bright Futures will be changed in the future. We might well have seen
changes this year had the current Senate President not traveled around
the state campaigning in a yellow school bus and telling people he
would protect Bright Futures. Once he is gone, the Legislature will
feel the pressure from many groups. They may do a variety of things
to decrease the cost to the State, but, something will definitely
change. One very real possibility is that the test scores will be
raised for all students. Therefore, I feel that the law needs to have
a subsection which specifically addresses home education students. The
required SAT or ACT scores are not in current law. That language was
revised in 2002 during the school code rewrite, and the authority to
set the test scores was given to the State Board of Education through
the rulemaking process. Knowing that s. 1009.535(1)FS does
specifically state that home education students can qualify with a 970
if they can document their coursework and GPA, I wanted to make sure
the language was there to serve as a place holder.

HEF makes every effort to create equal opportunities for home
education students, not special privileges. This philosophy has
gained many freedoms and privileges for our children. Sometimes I
have been able to argue for more freedom with some trade offs.
However, our goal has always been to maintain independence and
complete freedom from state regulation for those families who choose
not to participate in the Bright Futures scholarships, extracurricular
activities, tuition-free dual enrollment or the Florida Virtual School.

When your child chooses to participate in anything outside your home
for which someone or the State pays, there are additional regulations
to which you must adhere.

Initially in 1997, the DOE was not going to allow home education
students to be included in the Bright Futures Medallion scholarship.
They argued that the test score was too low, and they could not
document the coursework. I got them to include home education
students without documentation if they scored 100 points higher. Once
I was able to sell that concept, I reminded them that dual enrollment
just passed in 1996 and that I was serving on an advisory board to
create a virtual school which may allow home education student to
document the courses in the future. This would allow home education
students the same option as public and private school students have in
the Medallion Scholarship. I was able to convince them on all accounts.

HEF has always tried to represent the interest of parents who choose
to teach their own children through a private school. However, since
there are no separate laws which define nontraditional private
schools, they are a subset of all private schools. Therefore, the laws
that pertain to private schools in general also pertain to the
nontraditional private schools. Private school students taught by
their parents have to document their course work through the private
school, so if home-educated students document through a school, public
or private, FLVS or dual enrollment, they can qualify with the 970
test score.


If HB 957 and SB 2262 pass, the law will preserve and protect both
options for home education student to qualify for a Bright Futures
Medallion Scholarship. These two bills were not filed to win any new
rights; this is not the right time for changes. The bills were filed
to hang on to what we already have. If and when Bright Futures is
changed, we will have a position of strength from which to argue if we
already have the two options in statute.

A lobbyist has to be well connected, understand the political climate
of the day, as well as being an educator, a salesman, and an analyst.
When I believe that the timing is right, I try to seize the moment to
gain a little more ground. In so doing, I hope I can serve all
Florida home educators well.

Working for you,

Brenda

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Welcome Brandon Homeschool Cooperative!

LIFE of Florida is happy to welcome Brandon Homeschool Cooperative (BHC) to our growing collection of all-welcoming homeschool support groups:

Brandon Homeschool Cooperative (BHC) is a nonsectarian, inclusive
group of families that shares resources, ideas, and support for all
methods of homeschooling in the Brandon area.

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/bhcoop/ Contact: Katherine Abbey at
bhcoop@gmail.com or (813) 671-5307

We're glad you're here!

Summer Programs for Middle and High School Students

Visit http://www.volusia.k12.fl.us/gifted/2006_opportunities.htm for complete details - (while it indicates “2006” in the URL, the camp listings on this page do seem to be current)

Governor's Summer Program for Gifted & High-Achieving Students
The purpose of the Governor’s Summer Program is to provide an opportunity for outstanding gifted and high-achieving students to participate in and use the resources of the universities and colleges in the State of Florida. Institutions of higher education, public or private, submit proposals to provide day or residential, summer programs for gifted and high-achieving students entering grades 8-12. The goal is to use the academic strengths and unique instructional resources of the sponsoring institution to provide participating students with learning experiences not available in their secondary education programs. See program descriptions for specifies and contact information.

See also: http://www.nasa.gov/audience/forstudents/9-12/programs/index.html for more math and science program opportunities

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Welcome Seminole Learning Community!

We're happy to welcome Seminole Learning Community among our inclusive and welcoming homeschool support groups:

Seminole Learning Community is a group for homeschooling families IN or NEAR Seminole County, Florida. Group interests include weekly co-ops, group events and activities such as park days, craft days and field trips.

This group is open to families from all faiths and walks of life. All styles of homeschooling are welcome. All ages are welcome. This group is run by its members with some guidance from moderators so be prepared to jump right in!

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Seminole-Learning-Community/

They've been added to our directory at the LIFE Inc. website.

Friday, March 7, 2008

From Home Education Foundation: Update on Bright Futures Scholarships for Homeschoolers

Additional LIFE notes at bottom....

From: PJH
Date: Fri, Mar 7, 2008 at 11:13 AM
Subject: [HEF_Info] update on Bright Futures scholarships

Bright Futures Scholarships have been under attack from several different groups over the last couple of years. There have been proposals to decouple Bright Futures from tuition and make it a specific amount; some wanted to lower the amount given to all and thereby providing additional funds for needs-based scholarships or for students who go into specific majors. Thus far, with Senate President Pruitt at the helm, no changes will be made this year.

Even under these unfavorable circumstances, HEF has determined that the Bright Futures Medallion scholarship eligibility law for home education students needs to be clarified. Everything had been working fine until this summer when a home schooling mother tried to force the Bright Futures Office to make an exception for her daughter. The mother had done an exceptional job of educating her daughter, graduated the 14 year old, and enrolled the child into a community college. However, her daughter failed to meet either of the eligibility requirements for the Medallion scholarship. She could neither document the 15 required courses from a Florida school to qualify with a 970 SAT or a 20 ACT score, nor did she make the required 1070 SAT score to qualify without the documented credits and GPA. Yet, the mother demanded that the state give her child a Bright Futures scholarship. The Bright Futures Office did everything they could to help the student, but the mother had closed too many doors. After the Bright Futures Office sent her a letter declaring the child ineligible, the mother took the matter further and threatened a lawsuit. The DOE General Counsel's Office got involved and determined that home education students are only eligible if they score a 1070 on the SAT or 23 on the ACT. This interpretation stripped home-educated students of one option currently available to them.

In January, and unaware this ruling occurred in late fall, I called the Bright Futures Office to confirm some information for an article I was writing. Even though I was involved in the above mentioned case, I had not yet received the final decision from DOE. Fortunately, I found out in time to file legislation to address the fact that one of the ways home education students can qualify for Bright Futures had been eliminated. Knowing that the legislative intent is still in statute in the 1997 transition language, I consulted with legislative staffers who were present during the 2002 school code re-write to see if they interpreted the law as I did. After getting agreement from them, I contacted the DOE legal counsel to ask if they could reconsider their ruling based on the additional information I provided to them. They took some time getting back to me, and since the deadline for filing a bill was only two days away, I determined that if the law was confusing to parents and to the DOE legal staff, then, regardless of what the DOE decided, it needed to be clarified.

I was able to find sponsors in the House and Senate on very short notice and get the language into bill drafting. Between the bill drafting deadline and the day the bill was filed, I continued to work with the DOE Bright Futures Office and the DOE General Counsel's Office to clarify the bill language. Through this process, the DOE legal staff came to understand the ways that home education students can document the required 15 college-prep courses. We were able to jointly write language that anyone can understand, and the new language was filed. You can read the bills HB 957 and SB 2262 at Online Sunshine .

Yesterday, I heard back from the DOE attorney working with me on this issue. She stated that they had reviewed the current language in s. 1009.535(1) F.S. in light of the additional information and have determined that they agree with my interpretation. They made this decision based on three facts: (1) home education students can take college-preparatory coursework through the Florida Virtual School, dual enrollment and Florida public or private high schools that will provide a weighted GPA in the 15 college-preparatory courses, (2) that home education students are not excluded because this section of law refers to "students", and (3) in the initial eligibility requirements in s. 1009.531, home education students are excluded from having to have a diploma. Fortunately, students who were planning to qualify with a 970 SAT/20 ACT score this year will still be able to do so, even if the bill does not pass.

HEF is weighing the current legislative climate. I do think this language needs to be clarified, but I am not sure this is the time to do it. We will keep you posted regarding the bills' progression.

From the Capitol, working on your behalf,

Brenda Dickinson
_____________

LIFE Note: Current requirements can be found here:

http://www.floridastudentfinancialaid.org/ssfad/bf/fmsrequire.htm

And visit http://tinyurl.com/22xh5t to read HB 957 and

http://tinyurl.com/37z96c to read SB 2262

Both bills are identical, and this seems to be the text in question, regarding students eligible for Bright Futures:

(b) Has attended a home education program according to s.1002.41 at least during grades 11 and 12 and has attained a score of at least 100 points higher than the score identified by rules of the State Board of Education under paragraph (a) on the combined verbal and quantitative parts of the Scholastic Aptitude Test, the Scholastic Assessment Test, or the recentered Scholastic Assessment Test of the College Entrance Examination, or an equivalent score on the ACT Assessment Program; or has attended a home education program according to s. 1002.41 at least during grades 11 and 12, has documented successful completion of a college-preparatory curriculum as outlined in paragraph (a) through a Florida public school, a private school registered with the Department of Education, or dual enrollment pursuant to s. 1007.271, and has attained at least the score identified by rules of the State Board of Education under paragraph (a) on the combined verbal and quantitative parts of the Scholastic Aptitude Test, the Scholastic Assessment Test, or the recentered Scholastic Assessment Test of the College Entrance Examination, or an equivalent score on the ACT Assessment Program;

_______________

Visit http://www.floridastudentfinancialaid.org/ssfad/bf/newsrenew.htm for additional scholarship updates. We will post updates here as they become available.

LIFE of Florida