Jeff Bandes’ game-changing online education bill signed into law

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Florida students now have more options to choose high-quality online education, based on a new law sponsored by state Sen. Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg.

This week, Gov. Rick Scott signed House Bill 7029, an education bill providing students increased access to online education. The state is now authorized to develop a set of processes for offering virtual classes. 

Brandes says the bill provides the flexibility necessary to provide more online education in Florida.

“With the passage of this bill, students and teachers are the real winners,” Brandes said in a statement released Friday. “Florida students will now have access to the best education available in the world.”

Other provisions include calling for the Department of Education to introduce an online catalog of digital learning courses and to remove the class size requirements for approved online classes. The Florida Department of Education is also required to consider Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), and learn ways to incorporate MOOCs into Florida curricula by 2015.

Brandes and co-sponsor Rep. Manny Diaz Jr. from Hialeah see the bill as bringing the state to the forefront of evolving technology and the role the Internet plays in education.

“This is a big day for students in Florida,” Diaz said. “We are giving them access to a world class education.”

“I am proud of the progress that we have made with this legislation,” Diaz added. “I look forward to continuing the effort to bring innovative solutions to our education system.”

The bill also removes restrictions on the availability of digital courses, allowing students to attend online classes across school districts. Educators must also create an evaluation process for digital providers of online education; ensuring students will get the best available virtual classroom instruction.

HB 7029 is only the latest sign that Florida embraces online education. In April, Scott signed a bill to call for the first online-only public university in the nation.

In 2014, the University of Florida will provide an online bachelor’s degree program, with  an initial $15 million in start-up funds. The program is part of an education plan supported by Scott and the state’s Republican leadership. They think it will bridge the gap between curriculums and the needs of employers.

Students can choose “scholarly” courses while others can construct classes based on job skills. Students have the option to graduate without relying on complex classes like math and science.

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.