Bills would create open enrollment for Florida virtual charter schools

Florida students might soon be able to attend virtual charter schools authorized by any school district in the state, no matter where they live.

The potential change has moved through the Legislature with ease, though it remains unresolved as the annual lawmaking session approaches its May 5 end date.

A bill that passed the House this week on an overwhelming 115-1 vote would extend the state’s public-school open enrollment law to virtual charters.

The open-enrollment law, passed last year, allows parents to transport their children to any public school in the state that has room for them.

But separate laws govern virtual charters and district-controlled virtual instruction programs, which are local virtual schools run by private online learning companies.

While individual courses are available statewide from different types of online learning providers through the state’s online course catalog, the geographic boundaries still apply to full-time enrollment in some online schools.

Right now, for the most part, students can only attend virtual charters if they live inside the borders of a district that authorizes one. The same goes for virtual instruction programs, which state law requires all districts to offer, though their specific offerings vary.

Meanwhile, Florida Virtual School functions like a statewide school district and offers full-time and part-time online learning statewide.

The House legislation, HB 833, would also remove Florida’s last remaining grade-level restrictions on eligibility for online courses, a move supported by Gov. Rick Scott.

“A vote for this bill is a vote for students having more choice in education,” sponsor Jennifer Sullivan, R-Mount Dora, said during this week’s vote.

Similar virtual education legislation remains alive in the Senate. This week, legislation by Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, which is somewhat similar to the House proposal, was added to a larger education package sponsored by Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton. SB 1468 has coasted through a series of unanimous committee votes and could be taken up on the floor during the final week of the legislative session.