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!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Virtual View on Virtual Schools

There are emails going around, on both sides of the fence, about virtual school program legislation currently under consideration in FL (SB 534 and HB 7067). Some of the emails encourage signing a petition to allow home educators to participate in School District Virtual School Programs (SDVIP) without previous enrollment in public school, and others protest the legislation.

All home educators are urged to become informed about virtual school choices in Florida, whatever your opinion or preference regarding the schools, and to make sure you have all the facts (or as many as you can find) rather than acting on fear based or uninformed arguments on either side.

Support for SDVIP Enrollment Expansion
With respect to the petition, found at and this particular phraseology: "In looking at this law, it is a great tool for those parents that would choose to homeschool." …

It's important to remember that SDVIP is great tool for those interested in having a *public school education option that they can administer from home*. Participants need to understand that the laws under which those enrolled in this program would provide that education are different from homeschooling laws.

The petition calls on Florida representatives "to change the portion of House Bill 7067 that states a child must attend public school for one year to qualify for this program. We feel that this discriminates against children that previously home schooled or that would have to come out of private school that would want to use this program. Parents of all children should have the option to use this if they so chose. Treat all children fair"

Grammar issues aside,  the bill doesn't actually discriminate against homeschooled children or anyone else. This is a procedural issue, not a home education issue . Transferring to SDVIP should be handled as any public, private or homeschool program transfer is handled, using existing Florida State Board of Education transfer rules.

Opposition to SDVIP
Long time home and private school lobbyist Brenda Dickinson, of the Home Education Foundation, is concerned about the Senate version of SDVIP legislation, SB 534, for other reasons, principally her contention that SDVIP "will lead to the demise of home education as we know it."

In a recent email, referencing a Christian Broadcasting Network article titled "Online Charter Schools Proving Popular" she contends:

"Parents are going to be more confused about virtual education than they were last year if Charter Virtual Schools are created in Florida. This year some parents who have enrolled their children in the School District Virtual School Programs (SDVIP) are forming their own support groups and asking for membership in the Florida Parent Educators Association. They think they are home educators. However, students enrolled in a SDVIP, using K-12, Inc and Connections Academy are not home educated students; they are public school students. I believe in a short time this confusion will lead to the demise of home education as we know it.

"The type of school listed (in the article) is NOT a virtual school; it is a distant learning program. A box of books and materials are delivered to the child's home and the parent is the primary instructor. With the cost of curriculum and private education in these uncertain and difficult economic times, the charter virtual school described below will appeal to many parents. These programs contain highly structured curriculum with 180 days of lessons sent to the parent with a distant teacher provided who checks on the student periodically. Notice that the teacher only has to contact the student once a month. Since the State requires schools to provide 4 to 5 hours of instruction a day for 180 days per school year, these private programs are requiring parents to provide 4 to 5 hours a day per child for 180 days per school year.  The State will now bear the cost (about $5500 per child) of these children who will be enrolled in a public school run by an at-home private school with the parent as the primary instructor. Though it sounds a lot like home education, it has the structure and standardization of a private school.

SB 534 is filed for the 2010 Session and will create the same virtual charter school in Florida described in the article below. My question is: How long will home education parents be able to direct their children's education if these schools are established in Florida?  Many parents are afraid to step out on their own to take over the education of their children under the home education law, so this highly structured program will appeal to those parents. Within a few years, there will be almost no one in the elementary grades who develops their own curriculum and tailors it to their own child's interest, pace and learning style. Most parents, new to home education, will be persuaded that this is the only way to teach your child at home."

The virtual school induced death knell has been rung for homeschooling for almost ten years now. (For the record, almost identical complaints were leveled at FLVS at the time, even though now, FLVS is lauded by many of the same homeschoolers as a model virtual program for home educators.)

Home education is,in fact, changing and has been since its inception. But that's different from suffering a "demise."  More people than ever are aware that they can in some great measure influence and direct their children's education, perhaps not as completely as some of us have chosen, but more than many more people ever would have considered doing.

A future now suggests itself where everyone tailors his or her education to best suit individual needs, interests and abilities. This has the potential to bring a far higher quality of family life and education to more people than does circling the wagons to protect "home education as we  know it." Life as people knew it a hundred, two hundred, three hundred years ago no longer exists. While some good things are lost to time and history, many more good things have been gained: civil rights, greater longevity, multiculturalism, fascinating and useful technology, and more access to knowledge than ever before. 

Get the Facts
With any of the virtual school arguments or supplications, important points of clarification should be:

  • Sources and evidence for "slippery slope" arguments of doom;Specific studies regarding virtual school program effects on home education;
  • Specific instances of school district strong-arming (some emails claim school districts are performing portfolio reviews with the intention of intimidating parents into choosing SDVIP programs);
  • Focus on real issues: equitable application of uniform transfer rules, or truth in advertising for SDVIP programs – issues that apply across the board to all families trying to make informed decisions.

Advocating and empowering all families to make informed educational decisions for themselves and their children is, in the long run, the best way to protect homeschooling.

You can read more about HB 7067 at

And about SB 537 at 

Thoughts and insights are welcome, as is additional information that others may find helpful in weighing their options.

And for the record, any virtual school families seeking support and resources are very welcome to join Learning is for Everyone of Florida. We don’t care how you learn at home, and we’re happy to help you make the most of your time together with your children.

Terri Willingham

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