school year, Friend said.

The FLVS partnered with Stetson University to provide courses to out-of-state students. Stetson runs the program, but the courses and practices are the same as those at the FLVS. "It's basically a mirror of our program," said Friend, adding that keeping up with demand in the state was behind the decision to work with Stetson. "We want to serve as many Florida students as we possibly can so there's not that conflict of interest of, 'Why would you have a Florida teacher teaching to Georgia if you still have Florida kids wanting to get in the courses?'"

Teaching Youngsters

In addition to the FLVS, Florida is now piloting two K-8 virtual school programs. The state contracted with private companies -- K12 and Connections Academy -- for both schools. Unlike the FLVS, the K-8 initiatives are full-time programs, and though courses are taught by certified teachers, the classes rely heavily on parental guidance.

Some question the reliance on parents, who often lack the experience necessary to teach children. But K12's senior public relations manager, Jeff Kwitowski, said parental involvement is an added benefit for any age group -- especially youngsters. "Obviously a child who is 6, 7, 8 years old is going to need more oversight with the parent."

He said traditional schoolteachers are often overwhelmed with classes that are too big, and schools try to bring in other adults who can provide more individual attention. This environment, he said, allows parents to provide that attention.

"That, we believe, is the incentive for a lot of parents who want to be very involved in their child's education, but it's also to the benefit of the child because it gives even one more adult along with the certified teacher."

NASBE's Griffith questioned whether elementary school students are mature enough to take full advantage of virtual schooling.

"It does take a certain level of sophistication to get all the benefits out of a virtual education," he said. "It's also an efficiency thing -- being able to operate the computer, being able to keep work, typing speed, that sort of thing."

Lisa Gillis, operations administrator for the California Virtual Academies (CAVA), a network of six K12 programs in California, said the "virtual" is a little misleading.

"Kids only spend about 20 to 30 percent of their time online. The rest of it is project-based instruction," she said, adding that everything -- including the computer, Internet connection, the seeds used in science experiments and the clay used for modeling -- is sent to the home so parents have the guidance and support they need to lead the lessons.

The educational structure and guidance provided by virtual schooling has raised another issue as the programs have become popular with previously homeschooled students, bringing formerly unfunded students back into the public education system. To quell the demand on their budgets, some states have created requirements that only students who previously attended public schools can take advantage of public virtual schools.

Though acknowledging there are costs involved, Griffith said homeschooled students should be allowed to take courses in any public school. "To the extent you're bringing homeschool students back into the system, that's a good thing," he said. "I think that's an encouraging sign that the system is offering all kinds of families the options they desire."

Another issue that's been raised as students from traditional schools opt to go online is that of socialization. Griffith noted that students who choose virtual schooling must find other ways to socialize with kids in their age group.

"I don't think you can overlook the intangibles that the traditional schools have now -- the school spirit, athletic opportunities, extracurricular activities and benefits students get from gathering with their peers in

Emily Montandon  |  Staff Writer/Copy Editor