April 14, 2011
S.B. 65 poised to change online learning in Utah
While there are a number of states considering online learning laws this year, the law signed by the governor in Utah this month is perhaps the most far-reaching. S.B. 65 creates the Statewide Online Education Program, and will largely take effect on July 1, 2011. It will expand opportunities for a broader group of high school students by making it much easier for them to take online courses, giving them the ability to choose from a variety of different providers identified by the Program. In fact, the law specifically notes that an LEA may not give preference to an online course or provider.
Courses will be available through the Utah Electronic High School (EHS), as well as charter schools, districts, and LEAs that choose to offer online programs. Students are limited in the number of courses they can take, though the maximum increases each year for the first five years from two to six. However, a student can apply to his or her local LEA or the State Board of Education to take more courses.
The Statewide Online Education Program will receive $250,000 annually as an ongoing appropriation from the Education Fund. In addition, the State Board of Education will forward an amount equal to 1/8 of adjusted per pupil revenues for each credit earned in an online course to the online course provider. This amount will be deducted from funds allocated to the student’s primary LEA. The online provider will receive partial payment when a student enrolls in the online course and the balance upon completion.
Students statewide have had some access to supplemental online courses through one of the first state virtual schools, the EHS. The EHS focuses on students seeking credit recovery and accelerated graduation, though does offer a full-time option for a limited group of students. Keeping Pace 2010 reported the equivalent of 7,846 semester enrollments in EHS in 2009-10. Previously, EHS funding came mainly from a $2 million state line-item, and it did not receive or compete for weighted per-pupil state funding allocations with resident school districts. As the EHS will be rolled up under the Statewide Online Education Program beginning in July 2012, it too will compete with local districts and online providers around the state for funding.
Certain provisions of the law were left to be examined by the Education Interim Committee, who will report back to the legislature in the 2012 session. This includes guidance on course fees, whether private providers will be allowed to offer courses directly, and how students can take a full-time course load and graduate through the program.
With many states struggling to fund online learning options for their students and looking at solutions similar to what Utah has just passed, we will be watching closely to see how the law plays out in practice.