Louisiana Course Choice is not “course choice”

When is Course Choice not “course choice”? When it’s tied to a limited state appropriation, as it now is in Louisiana. This news item caught our attention:

“Louisiana's Course Choice mini-voucher program has reached full capacity, with about 2,000 students enrolled at public expense in online courses and 500 more on a waiting list. That uses up the $2 million the state made available for the initiative.”

"Enrollment requests have exceeded our expectations," Education Superintendent John White said Monday.”

Louisiana has demonstrated what we have seen previously: when students are offered the choice to take online courses, they do so in high numbers (see e.g. Florida Virtual School’s history.) If the funding is based on an appropriation instead of student-generated funding following the student, demand is likely to exceed the supply of online courses being funded.

Louisiana’s Course Choice program was generally well-conceived, but the key funding element (funding following the student) was deemed unconstitutional by the state’s supreme court. As a fallback, the state funded course choice via the appropriation, which met only a part of the demand.

The result is that Louisiana’s Course Choice program, while well-intentioned, is no longer truly course choice, because many students in the state will not have the choice to take an online course. Instead, it is now resembling a state virtual school that is limited in the course enrollments that it can provide, because it is dependent on the vagaries of the appropriations process. (Although Louisiana’s program uses multiple providers, not a single state virtual school.)

We will explore this topic further in Keeping Pace 2013 (to be released at the end of October), and review what is happening in other course choice states.