Jason Shoaf bill aims to boost virtual school access

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The bill would require school districts to adopt digital learning plans.

Rep. Jason Shoaf filed a bill that would ensure students have the equipment and connections they need to attend school online.

HB 985 would require school districts to adopt a digital learning plan that addresses how district-owned laptops and tablets will be distributed to students and how the district will help students who don’t have broadband get online.

The plan would also have to consider how to educate teachers and parents about the technology needed to attend virtual school. According to the bill, each district would be required to submit its plan to the Department of Education by Oct. 1. 

“During COVID-19, we learned the hard way that our schools were not as digitally advanced as they should be. Almost overnight, we were forced to transition our students from classroom learning to digital learning platforms,” said Shoaf, a Port St. Joe Republican.

“This transition proved to be challenging in districts across the state and highlighted the critical need for digital preparedness in our schools. HB 985 takes the steps necessary to ensure Florida students have access to high-quality digital learning resources.”

Foundation for Florida’s Future executive director Patricia Levesque praised HB 985 in a news release on its introduction.

“One of the pandemic’s most vivid lessons is that digital access must be foundational to how we deliver education,” she said. “HB 985 can help bridge the digital divide by providing underserved students with digital resources, ensuring access to high-quality online curriculum and providing support for students, teachers and families.”

Shoaf added, “Given modern day technology, it is time to ensure our students develop relevant and applicable digital skills. We are doing our students an injustice by not preparing them to enter a world that operates on a virtual platform. HB 985 would expand the tools and resources needed to provide all students with the opportunity to learn and succeed in school and beyond.”

HB 985 was filed Monday and is awaiting committee references. Ocala Republican Sen. Dennis Baxley filed a similar bill (SB 1016) last week.

Drew Wilson

Drew Wilson covers legislative campaigns and fundraising for Florida Politics. He is a former editor at The Independent Florida Alligator and business correspondent at The Hollywood Reporter. Wilson, a University of Florida alumnus, covered the state economy and Legislature for LobbyTools and The Florida Current prior to joining Florida Politics.


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