for every student. That doesn't mean the online learning environment is the best model for every student, but I think we've been able to complement what students can get at their traditional schools with providing the option of online courses."

The school does not grant diplomas, and for the most part, students take courses from the school on a supplemental basis. Students must arrange through their own school counselors to take courses for credit.

Friend said the school allows students in rural districts to take courses not normally available to them, and accommodates scheduling needs for students and their families. "What we're really providing is just another option for students to earn credits they need toward high-school graduation."

As one of the most established virtual schools in the nation, the FLVS serves as a model for other programs both within the state and without. The school started with a "Break the Mold" funding grant in 1997 as a pilot project between two Florida counties, which offered a minimal number of classes to a limited number of students. The state Department of Education continued funding the school as a line item until 2003, when the FLVS was deemed a public school district and the Legislature began funding the school on a variation of full-time equivalent (FTE) funding.

In Florida, each school district receives a certain amount of funds, which varies by district, for each student enrolled full time. The virtual school, however, isn't funded exactly the same as a regular school district -- it receives funds based on course completions rather than on simple head count.

Since most FLVS students don't take all of their classes through the program, the school's FTE funds are based on aggregate course completions (i.e., how many courses completed by various students add up to one FTE). The school does not charge fees to students who are Florida residents.

Attendance has grown exponentially since the program began -- Friend said he anticipated at least 28,000 course enrollments for the 2004-2005 school year. Even as the school expands, it continues to have waiting lists for certain courses.

The FLVS devised a way to partner with state school districts to keep up with in-state demand. Where demand is high in certain districts, the FLVS will set those districts up with their own programs if the districts so choose, allowing them to run their own virtual school with local staff based on the FLVS curriculum and practices. The FLVS provides training and oversight to the franchises.

The arrangement helps local districts ensure that their kids can enroll in courses and allows the districts to keep the FTE funds in their district. The arrangement also benefits the FLVS, Friend said. "It just provides more opportunity for us to serve more students because now we know we have sort of a franchise that can offload some of the demand we ordinarily would have received."

Broward County was the first of seven Florida districts to establish a franchise. MaryAnn Butler-Pearson, Broward Education Communications Network director of distance learning for Broward County Public Schools, said the district approached the FLVS with the idea because the district had so many students on waiting lists for courses.

"In Broward County, one very important goal is to make sure all of our students have equitable access to quality learning, so when some students were able to get in and others weren't, it caused an inequity."

Equal access is one reason an urban school district needs such a program, said Butler-Pearson, adding that people are often surprised an urban district like Broward would need a virtual school. "Our students need it just as much as suburban or rural students," she said, "just for different reasons."

Reducing class size is one area in which the school,

Emily Montandon  |  Staff Writer/Copy Editor