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, April 14, 2011

TED Talk - Dave Meslin: The antidote to apathy

This recent TED Talk has relevance to ongoing discussions in FL about legislative issues and how to respond to them. If we want the most independent learning options possible, as free as they can be of others' control, then we have to be independent in the conduct of our learning choice - free of others'funding, and free of others' agendas. Being personally educated about legislation that may, or may not, affect us is hugely empowering and good for all learning choices and for maintaining the freedoms we enjoy. There are some obstacles that can discourage civic engagement, as Dave Meslin points out, but we can work together to dismantle them and retake our place in our own governance.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Staying Informed and Proactive about Legislative Issues that May Affect You

Emails flew recently when the Home Education Foundation , a homeschooling and private school lobbying organization here in Florida, sent out an alert alarmingly titled “Attack on Parental Rights and Home Education”, asserting that citizens must act immediately and without hesitation against some proposed legislation “or independent education (private school and home education) as we know it now will no longer exist. The State will control education from birth on.”
While the proposed bill, part of a major Florida government reorganization effort, does indeed, call for greater scrutiny and oversight of some private schools and child care centers, a reading of the bill’s text suggests the above declaration to be something of an overstatement. The bill clearly states at line 3993, that “ Except as provided by law, the department may not impose requirements on a private prekindergarten provider or public school that does not deliver the Voluntary Prekindergarten Education Program or receive state funds under this part.” (SB 2156 - )

And Florida's statutory definition of private schools states unequivocably, "A private school may be a parochial, religious, denominational, for-profit, or nonprofit school. This definition does not include home education programs conducted in accordance with s. 1002.41."- further diluting any potential threat to home education in Florida from the proposed legislation.

  No links to the text of the bill, or companion measures that were mentioned in that and subsequent updates were ever provided; nor any specific selections from the bill in question cited. There were only big unsubstantiated, or loosely connected generalizations:
  •  Since 85% of all child care centers and VPK (Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten, a publicly funded program administered through private schools) are private, if the bill became law then “ALL private providers, including home educators, would come under the control of the Department of Education.”
  • “Private school freedom is essential to keeping home education free. Once the State regulates private schools and measures learning gains of private school students, they will seek to further regulate home education.”
  • “CONTROL IS THE HIDDEN AGENDA “ and “…private and home education is under attack!” (these in capital letters and big bold type with exclamation marks.)
These are classic examples of logical fallacies The first two, asserting “if/once X happens, Y will neccessarily  follow” is often called the “slippery slope” argument , also sometimes known as “affirming the consequent.” It's used routinely used in advertising, political campaigns and other persuasivearguments and communications. The third is a classic scare tactic, or an appeal to fear , also known as an ad baculum argument.
And all three are mischaracterizations of the degree of threat to homeschooling, in this particular instance, in the service of protecting private schooling.  While understandably seeking to keep private schools free of additional government oversight, the calls for action conveniently down play the fact that the private schools most at risk for increased oversight, in this case, are those that take public funds like scholarships for the disabled and school choice vouchers. It was in the lobbyist’s and private schools interests to mobilize people quickly in opposition to the legislation – even as homeschoolers who were contacted were pointedly instructed not to identify themselves as such, but only as private school supporters.

That’s not to say people shouldn’t act on behalf of private schools, if so inclined. But to speak out most effectively, as well as to avoid being manipulated by other agendas, it’s important to understand, as much as possible, the facts of the matter. Fortunately, there are some basic tools and practices that those wishing to stay abreast of legislative happenings can employ to be their own best lobbyists in this and in other similar situations.
  1. Stay informed about pertinent legislation – In Florida, we can track the course of whatever legislation we want via a Legislative Tracking system in both the House and the Senate . Simply register your email address, do some keyword or bill number searches (search on a variety of related terms, not just one word or phrase) and you can be updated at your convenience. You can even track specific committees, and statutes, particularly handy if you want to want to see who's poking around the laws. If you live in a less transparent state, try StateNet . At the national level, there are dozens of resources, from to Open Congress, all of which allow you to keep a close eye on issues and those behind them. We have a large collection of Civic Engagement Resources at our website .
  2. READ ! – Read the text of a bill for yourself, rather than taking someone else’s word on what it says. Admittedly, bills can make for long and tedious reading. But you can use your computer’s Find feature to look for specific words, phrases or relevant sections.
  3. Ask questions – Of legislators, lobbyists, and anyone proposing, discouraging or promoting action or legislation. Don’t reject things out of hand, but don’t follow blindly either.
  4. Focus on the real issue – Politics is emotional, and it can sometimes be hard to see the heart of the matter through the smoke and mirrors of all the vested interests. But take statements like “if this bill becomes law, then this will happen” and honestly assess the possibility and see if there’s any relationship at all to the reality of the text or the situation. There are lots of great resources now for assessing the validity of claims, including PR Watch, PolitiFact, Fact, GovTrack and others.
  5. Speak out politely, articulately and specifically – If you feel compelled to speak out on an issue after becoming informed about it, do so clearly and outline specifically what you’d like your legislator to do, and request a response back. You may not get the action or the response that you’d like, but your views will become part of the public record and you have started a dialog. 
We’re all busy with families, work, school, health and the day-to-day concerns of life and living. But we are also each signatories on the social contract for our governance. Our legislators work for us, and if we abdicate our responsibility as the owners of our government, others will happily step into our place, on their own behalf. And if you only speak out or act when others "alert" you, you risk ignorance of other possibly more problematic legislation of which they may chose not to inform you.

For the record, here are some other bills Florida citizens may want to keep an eye on, which no “alerts” have been sent out about, but which could have an impact on family and individual freedoms to both live and learn:

CS/HB 1329 - John M. McKay Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Program

HB 415 – Abortion (listed here because it shows up under the keywords "parental rights" by the way)
GENERAL BILL by Van Zant (CO-SPONSORS) Ahern; Baxley; Renuart; Weinstein
Abortion: Creates "Florida for Life Act";and includes other provisions... 
Effective Date: July 1, 2011 Last Event: 1st Reading on Tuesday, March 08, 2011 10:24 PM

HM 557 Parental Rights Amendment and  S 954 Parental Rights Amendment Flores 04/06/2011 S Retained on Calendar  - Parental Rights Amendment: Urges the Congress of the United States to propose to the states for ratification an amendment to the United States Constitution relating to parental rights.
Effective Date: Not Specified  - Last Event: 04/06/11 S Retained on Calendar on Wednesday, April 06, 2011 7:38 PM (See LIFEs evaluation of ongoing "Parental Rights" legislation efforts at our

National Homeschool Issues page.)

S 1620 K-12 Educational Instruction Flores 04/08/2011 S On Committee agenda-- Budget, 04/13/11, 1:30 pm, 412 Knott Building  - GENERAL BILL by Flores  -K-12 Educational Instruction: Adds statewide virtual providers to the list of public school choices. Authorizes the creation of a virtual charter school. Requires the virtual charter school to contract with an approved statewide virtual provider. Provides for funding of the virtual charter school. Provides for a blended-learning charter school. Provides that home education students may enroll in certain virtual education courses or courses offered in the school district in which they reside, etc. - Effective Date: upon becoming a law -Last Event: 04/11/11 S On Committee agenda-- Budget, 04/14/11, 1:30 pm, 412 Knott Building on Monday, April 11, 2011 5:09 PM
HB 715 – Public School Attendance (contains some minor(?) home education language changes)
Public School Attendance: Creates Student Preparedness Pilot Program to include Duval County School District as one of selected school districts; requires that students in pilot program districts who are 16-18 years of age & do not regularly attend school shall be subject to attendance & completion requirements; requires pilot program districts to identify curricula options; requires annual study & report by OPPAGA. -Effective Date: July 1, 2011 -Last Event: 1st Reading on Tuesday, March 08, 2011 10:24 PM
 CS/HB 1331 - School Choice
Revises requirements for eligibility to participate in Opportunity Scholarship Program; deletes provisions that authorize opportunity scholarship for attendance at private school; revises school district obligations & deletes provisions to conform; deletes obsolete provision relating to John M. McKay Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Program.

CS/CS/HB 1255 - Education Accountability
GENERAL BILL by Education Committee and K-20 Competitiveness Subcommittee and Adkins -
Education Accountability: Revises numerous provisions relating to K-12 public education system; revises provisions relating to virtual instruction courses, school board member acceptance of gifts, Opportunity Scholarship Program, McKay Scholarships, Voluntary Prekindergarten Education Program, special education services, requirements for middle grades promotion & high school graduation, digital curriculum, career & professional academies, assistive technology, statewide assessments, college readiness, school improvement, designation of school grades, education budgets, funding for exceptional student education, & teacher qualifications. -Effective Date: July 1, 2011 -Last Event: Added to Second Reading Calendar on Friday, April 08, 2011 6:04 PM

and, of course, SB 2156 Governmental Reorganization.

There's no reason to face last minute alarms and 11th hour calls to action when it's completely within our own individual power to stay informed and involved in our own governance!

LIFE of Florida

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

LIFE of Florida Evaluation of SB 2516

On Tuesday, April 5, some “alerts” began making the rounds regarding proposed Florida Senate Bill 7202 . One of the emails says, “There is a Legislative Bill being proposed in Tallahassee. SB7207 (sic) would create a program for monitoring and measuring a child’s learning gains from birth through 5 years old. If this bill is passed ALL child care centers and kindergartens would be under the control of the Department of Education. Private education providers – physical private schools, non-traditional private school (like TOPS) and county homeschoolers – could come under the control of the Department of Education. “ The alert urges homeschoolers to “take immediate action… before the Proposed Committee Bill (PCB) is finalized or independent education (private school and home education) as we know it now will no longer exist. The State will control education from birth on. “

The original warning hails for the Home Education Foundation and can be read in its entirety here: Interestingly, none of the “alerts” provide a link to read the entire text of the bill (which can be found here:, and the alert quoted above actually misidentifies the bill number as 7207, rather than 7202.   The bill renumber SB 2156   went to the floor today ( not giving anyone much time to do anything about it anyway) , where some amendments were adopted and some rejected and the whole thing was placed on a 3rd reading, to be debated one more time before final passage.

But a search through the 21000 line bill doesn’t seem to support the contention that “the state will control education from birth on”, nor that “ALL child care centers and kindergartens would be under the control of the Department of Education.” What it does seem to suggest, is that those running private schools, especially those that take state funds, will be under tighter scrutiny and more DOE control. The home based learners who might understandably be concerned about that are those trying to “homeschool” via a private school, or “umbrella” program, rather than independently registered with their counties. Independently registered homeschoolers are not considered “private education providers”.

As a matter of fact, SB 2156 specifically says:

14432 (g) Except as provided by law, the Department of Education
14433 Agency for Workforce Innovation may not impose requirements on a
14434 child care or early childhood education provider that does not
14435 deliver services under the school readiness programs or receive
14436 state or federal funds under this section.

Most of this section of this broad government reorganization bill deals with “early learning coalitions”, specifically those that receive state or federal funds. Florida home educators teaching their children under the state’s Home Education Program neither deliver services under school readiness programs or receive state or federal funds, and so would be exempt from the requirements of the bill.

Learning is for Everyone of Florida encourages families to be educated civic activists, and to fully inform themselves before speaking out on an issue. In this case, there’s a good chance homeschoolers are being recruited to speak out on behalf of private education – especially when the alert specifically, in bold, asterisked type instructs “Do Not Identify Yourself as a Homeschooler – Only Identify Yourself as a Parent Who Supports Private Education.” There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, if that’s what one wishes to do. But there’s no reason to mislead people with dire and unsubstantiated warnings to compel them to act in someone else's interests. And it’s especially unconscionable to urge people to act without providing them the resources they need to be fully informed before they do so.

The Home Education department of the FL DOE confirmed that they don’t deal with VPK (Voluntary Public Kindergarten) issues, and suggests concerned citizens read the text of the bill for themselves, and do one or more of the following to get a better understanding of the intent of the legislation:
You can also find your legislators at  and talk to him or her to get help on further clarification.  A related House Bill CS/HB 5101 was also on the floor today, and failed.  (In a very recent update, HEF lauds House Select Committee on Government Reorganization House Bill PCB H SCRG3  for "protecting your rights" , perhaps because there's little to no mention of education in it.)

As HEF points out, control can be a hidden agenda – but it’s not just the state who might want to control citizens. Private interests often do as well. Home education is governed under a different set of laws from private education, in Florida. While it’s important to protect private school interests, like all educational options, to suggest that every affront to private education – especially private education that takes state or federal money – is an automatic threat to home education, is misleading at best.

Act if so moved, but be an informed activist, and know the facts before you speak out, so that you can speak out effectively and knowledgeably.

Learning is for Everyone
LIFE of Florida