December 17, 2013

States with Course Choice Programs

Before Keeping Pace 2013 was released, we looked at one of the ways states are offering supplemental online classes to students, through state virtual schools. Many of the identified programs give students choice, but still have a variety of restrictions. Most of these programs are still in their infancy, and are achieving the goal of giving students choice in their course providers with mixed success.

State-supported course choice programs are designed to allow students to choose the course and provider that best meets their needs. Keeping Pace defines a course choice program as one in which:

  • students can choose to take a course from one of multiple providers,
  • a district cannot deny a student’s request to enroll in an out-of-district course, and
  • funding follows the student at the course level.

The programs in Florida and Utah are the most frequently discussed in regard to course choice legislation, as they are the two states that have passed laws giving students choice of providers and allowing funding to follow the student at the course level. These two programs fit the full definition of course choice in which students are meant to have significant control over their online courses options.

The remaining programs have restrictions in place that stretch along a continuum. In some programs, restrictions exist based on grade levels, number of funded courses, whether the course is core or elective, whether multiple providers are authorized, and the funding type. In other programs, districts have a variety of reasons in policy that they can deny students their online course preferences. Some of these are related to funding or educational goals (e.g., students can’t retake a course that they already passed, or students can take online courses only if the courses are consistent with the students’ educational plans), but they may be used to restrict options when students do not have a course of appeals if their online course choice is denied. The different types of restrictions are discussed in depth in the Course Choice policy analysis section on p. 34 in this year’s report.

The states with course choice programs have reported relatively low numbers in these programs through SY 2012-13 and into SY 2013-14. Utah’s course choice program served 1,279 course enrollments in SY 2012-13, its second year of operation. In contrast, Utah’s state virtual school, the Electronic High School, served 10,308 course enrollments in the same period. One theory behind the low enrollments in the course choice program is that many districts create online programs in response to the legislation, whether because the framework is in place to sign on with providers or in an effort to serve out-of district students, but in the end providing their own students with more options.

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