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Districts Responding to Fla. Legislation's Digital Mandate

For better or worse, Florida has normally been on the leading edge in implementing state-level policy changes that forward the goals of digital-learning advocates.

The Florida Virtual School has grown to today's massive size in part because the state was the first to adopt a funding model in which dollars follow the student, rather than provide an arbitrary appropriation amount. And the school itself has decided to adjust its model to allow full-time enrollment, after the state recently passed a law that allows students to directly enroll in public virtual schools rather than through their brick-and-mortar districts.

Along the same lines, a recent story in the Northwest Florida Daily News shows some of the impact of more recent state legislation, which requires districts to use half of all state-issued textbook-allocation money for digital content by 2015.

The Okaloosa County district in the state's panhandle is hoping to roll out six mobile-device pilot programs, while also beefing up wireless access, in preparation for meeting that requirement, among others, reports the Daily News. Half the mobile-device trials will involve iPads, which have gained great popularity among educators. And the plan is to extend Wi-Fi through high schools first, then to middle schools, and then to elementary schools, with the goal of equipping all campuses to handle a high volume of network activity by 2014.

For years, digital-learning advocates have pushed for allowing districts more flexibility to spend funds on technology in place of other expenditures, such as print textbooks, bus field trips, and AP physics instructors. But usually, the caveat is that districts should be allowed to find their own way there, rather than be forced into "innovation."

This legislation seems to counter that. Which makes Okaloosa County and others like it worth watching, if for no other reason than to see if initiatives driven by legislative mandate are as effective as those driven by institutional choice.

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