Details about State Course Choice Programs
One of the challenges of publishing an annual print report on online learning is that the field is evolving so quickly that print can rapidly become out of date. In Keeping Pace 2013, we defined a new category of online learning programs that we termed course choice programs, and now we are adding some details about these programs. We define a course choice program as a program that:
- gives students across a state the option to choose to take a supplemental course from one of multiple providers,
- does not allow a district to deny a student’s request to enroll in an out-of-district course, and
- where funding follows the student at the course level.
The best-known examples are the programs in Florida and Utah that have received extensive media attention in recent years. We have identified seven states as having statewide course choice programs: Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, and Utah. Significant differences exist in these states’ policies, however, and these differences are worth exploring.
- Arizona has long had legislation in place that allows students to choose out-of-district providers. However, it is not mandated in legislation that resident districts accept credits from out-of-district providers. As Arizona’s state data reporting system cannot separate part-time and full-time online enrollments, it is unclear exactly how many part-time (supplemental) enrollments are being served by out-of-district providers, but the state does not believe the number is high.
- Georgia passed two bills in 2012 (HB175 and SB289) that guided the state department of education’s (GaDOE) course choice program. SB289 gives students the right to choose courses from the state virtual school, Georgia Virtual School (GVS). HB175 mandated the creation of a statewide clearinghouse. However, neither bill received funding, and implementation details weren’t clear. The GaDOE has responded by creating a clearinghouse that guides students toward available options based on the student’s resident district. All students have access to part-time options through GVS, and full-time options through the state’s virtual charters. If a student’s resident district has an online program, that option is also listed. Legislation is being considered this session that could provide clarification on the clearinghouse, and offer funding for a statewide program.
- Louisiana pulled together short-term funding for its course choice program for school year 2013-14, but it is unclear what the long-term funding model will be for the program. Registration is open for 2014-15.
Course choice programs are perhaps the most important innovative and evolving policy issue in online learning, and we will be watching the 2014 legislative sessions closely for action on this topic.