ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy's administration has launched a new virtual school for Alaska students in partnership with a Florida program, garnering some criticism from educators adjusting their lessons to online teaching amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The state of Alaska signed a $525,000 contract through February 2021 with the Florida Virtual School, which had enrolled about 80 Alaska students by Friday, Alaska’s Energy Desk reported.
“The ‘fourth-quarter solution’ that is suggested through the purchase of this Florida version of distance delivery is seen as an insult to most, if not all, teachers in the state who have been supporting their students,” Juneau Schools Superintendent Bridget Weiss said.
The Florida Virtual School was recommended to Dunleavy’s education commissioner by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.
The Florida program has previously worked with Alaska schools, Alaska Education Commissioner Michael Johnson said, adding that the new contract is intended to expand options for students stuck at home over measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
School buildings in Alaska are closed until at least May 1, and educators across the state are providing lessons remotely.
“It’s really been inspiring to see how teachers have responded and are filling in these gaps,” he said. “And so it’s not intended to say that somebody’s not doing what they should. It’s just trying to put as many options for students on the table as possible and, where it works and where it’s helpful, then it’s there.”
Educators across the state are concerned and have a lot of questions after finding out about the contract the same day students were already allowed to register, said Tim Parker, president of the teachers union, NEA-Alaska, which represents more than 12,000 Alaska public school teachers and support staff.
Weiss has agreed, citing her disappointment with the lack of transparency from the state.
“We’re in a crisis, and teachers and educators are meeting the needs of the students that they have,” Parker added. “I’m not sure having a teacher in Florida is going to improve the situation at this point in time.”
The Florida program was created in 1997 and offers more than 190 online courses to more than 200,000 students across all 50 states. The school told NPR in March that it hopes to double its enrollment.
Alaska's contract with the program includes allowing K-12 students to register for online classes for free for the final part of the school year scheduled to end in May. The courses will be taught by Florida-based teachers certified in that state. The Florida staff is also contracted to train up to 50 Alaska teachers to move their own classes online and help the state transition to Alaska-based educators teaching the classes.