Broward Virtual Education (BVEd) has helped the district, she said. "If a class had just two or three too many students, they wouldn't be able to afford to hire a teacher and split the class in half."

Now students can opt to take classes online. The school also expands offerings available to students in smaller schools with limited courses, she said. "The students they're teaching are learning the skills and attitudes they're going to need for this type of success in the workplace, as well as in higher education."

One district school requires that students take at least one class online. While competition for funding has in some cases created a contentious relationship between districts and remote virtual schools, Butler-Pearson said students can take courses from either virtual school, and that the relationship between the FLVS and the Broward County franchise is a good one.

"They really nurture the franchises, and they go out of their way to make sure we have everything we need," she said. "It's not a competitive relationship at all because they have so many students."

She said having a model to follow made it a lot easier for the district to get the school up and running. "Not only did we use the coursework, but they also trained all of our teachers initially in both the pedagogy, the philosophy, as well as the course content."

Though franchising can be beneficial for districts with a large demand for online classes, Friend said franchising isn't always a good option.

"Franchising is really meant for districts that want to have a large online initiative, and maybe even larger than what we ourselves can provide to them," he said. "A district that's not going to serve many students online would frankly be better off just having the students come to us because there's a threshold of how many credits they need to get before they break even on the franchising cost."

He said districts that choose to franchise must spend at least $20,000 upfront for franchising costs. "But then they're going to have to put people behind it." He said the FLVS recommends that districts have one full-time staff member oversee the initiative, and then the district must supply teachers as well. And Butler-Pearson said there are ongoing costs associated with the franchise.

The in-state franchising fees, however, are not profit-making initiatives for the FLVS. "It's really a cost recovery for us," said Friend. "It's not something that we generate revenue from in our own state. It's really meant to cover the cost of setting them up and providing oversight."

Broward County Public Schools started the franchise in September 2001 with school board funding, and schools paid for students who took courses through the school until 2003, when the Legislature allowed FTE-type funding for the franchises and the FLVS, Butler-Pearson said.

There are some benefits a local program can offer that a statewide program can't. Unlike the FLVS, BVEd can issue diplomas to its own students -- some of the tracking requirements for graduation would be too unruly for a statewide program, Butler-Pearson said.

"For example, it's one of the state requirements that the students do 50 hours of community service, and we have to document that just like the traditional high schools do. That would be a lot of record-keeping for Florida Virtual because their student population is huge," she said. "I think it's because we're local that we have a little bit more of a handle on it."

The FLVS also sells its curriculum and training to other states or jurisdictions, and offers courses to out-of-state students for a fee.

Profits, by law, must go back into course development and otherwise improving the FLVS, and the school's out-of-state efforts earned approximately $1.5 million in the 2003-2004

Emily Montandon  |  Staff Writer/Copy Editor