Iowa plans to open its first two virtual academies

2012 is shaping up to be another active year for online and blended learning policy changes. Iowa has a state virtual school and other supplemental options, but for the first time it appears K-12 students are likely to have access to full-time online learning beginning in fall 2012: -          Clayton Ridge School District plans to serve students in grades K-6 at Iowa Virtual Academy in partnership with K12 Inc. It will gradually expand to include middle and high school grades.

-          CAM (Camanche Community) School District plans to serve students in grades K-12 at Iowa Connections Academy in partnership with Connections Education.

These schools are not opening as charter schools, but rather as “buildings with districts.” Iowa is an open enrollment state; any student in Iowa may apply to these academies by the open enrollment deadline of March 1.

While the schools are actively enrolling students and planning to open, there is some concern that the laws do not allow for a full-time online education. Senator Tom Courtney wrote a letter to the state Attorney General that was published in the Des Moines Register on February 10 raising these concerns, referencing the Iowa Administrative Code for the Education Department, which states the following in Chapter 15:

281—15.4(256) Course eligibility. Telecommunications may be employed as a means to deliver any course, including a course required for accreditation by the department, provided it is not the exclusive means of instructional delivery. [emphasis added]

The Attorney General has announced that it intends to issue an opinion on the legality of the online schools.

In addition, Iowa’s Governor has made a number of recommendations related to education, including increasing funding to $1.8M for each of the next three years for Iowa Learning Online (ILO), the state virtual school. ILO reported 574 course enrollments in 2010-11. While this was an increase of 8% from 2009-10 (see Iowa’s Keeping Pace profile for more details), it still represents a tiny percentage of Iowa’s student population. Increased funding would presumably lead to additional opportunities for students across the state to access supplemental online courses. In Iowa, 151,800 students (1/3 of the state total) attend a rural school, which typically offer a smaller catalog of courses than larger schools.

It appears likely Iowa students will have more education options next fall; we will keep you updated on both of these issues.