Friday, November 8, 2019

FL: Even The State Thinks Florida Virtual School Needs To Shape Up

Virtual charter schools have a lousy track record, so bad that even bricks-and-mortar charter advocates have called for them to shape the hell up. Meanwhile, Florida has implemented every reformy method of undercutting public schools that could be imagined. So it's entirely predictable that Florida would have its own cyberschool, and that it would be a mess. But a lucrative one, as under previous governor Rick Scott, the state added a graduation requirement that every student must take an online course.

The school itself? Well, a 2014 Harvard Kennedy School study found that FLVS was "not significantly worse" than public school. For some reason, FLVS did not include that in their marketing.

Florida Virtual School was launched in 1997 by the state, and has since spun off into a sort of private beast that offers franchises to school districts. Problems have ensued regularly since. For instance, in 2018 the on-line school suffered a massive data breach,  characterized by one expert as not so much a hack as the school "left the door open."

The most recent round involved the Orlando Sentinel trying to plumb the depths of the work of Frank Kruppenbacher, the once-attorney of FLVS. The Sentinel learned that the lawyer had been mixing his FLVS work with that of other clients, jobs, and his own family. He used school employees to do work elsewhere, hired family, and, additionally, was apparently a sexist jerk to staff. The school kept all of this under wraps, including a nasty court battle; FLVS not only refused to release documents, but filed a civil lawsuit against the Sentinel for asking.

How bad did it get? So bad that state edu-honcho and former actively anti-public ed legislator Richard Corcoran recommended a big-time audit of FLVS, and Governor Ron "Never Met A Privatizing Scheme He Didn't Like" DeSantis agreed. Previous Governor Rick Scott had loaded the FLVS board of trustees with folks who were cozy with Kruppenbacher, and DeSantis has made some noise about changing that, too.

This summer a new FLVS head was appointed, and some board was shuffled as the state took control of FLVS. The new appointees are all politically connected, with nary a molecule of actual education experience in sight (though Corcoran does know one from church). So there's no reason to expect things to look up there.

And last week, the audit arrived, sort of. Giant chunks of the almost $200K report were cut-and-pasted from existing sources. Because, Florida. Nevertheless, the report recommends "a new governor-appointed board, new ethics standards for employees and a new inspector general inside the school to oversee internal audits and investigations."

It's another top-notch Florida-style swamp of shenanigans, and at this point the nations first state-wide cyberschool doesn't seem to have anyone in its corner. Though at the same time, the only solution being considered is putting someone else sit on the deck and watch as FLVS continues to wander adrift. Maybe someone should be suggesting to scrap the whole mess.




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