Arizona Legislature Addressing Online Education

Published March 12, 2012

The Arizona legislature is considering bills to facilitate student access to online learning and to help virtual schools hold students to higher standards. SB 1259 and SB 1255 both address important areas of need, says Jonathan Butcher, education director at the Arizona-based Goldwater Institute.

Senate Bill 1259 would have the state pay virtual schools for completion rather than enrollment. SB 1255 would establish a board to administer tests to measure students’ proficiency in online course material.

The legislation is the “type of leg-up the virtual world needs to be the most effective,” Butcher said.

In addition, SB 1463 would require virtual schools to proctor final exams in person, and HB 2260 would increase the per-student funding online schools receive.

Rapid Online Learning Growth
These bills address problem areas in online education discovered in a six-part investigative series by The Arizona Republic.

Online schools and districts in Arizona have increased from 14 to 66 since 2009, when the legislature removed caps on the number of online schools in the state. During the 2010-2011 academic year, almost 36,000 students took one or more classes online.

Butcher said he supports innovative practices that provide a la carte education, and that online schools help increase school choice by creating innovative avenues for students to utilize several different school options simultaneously.

Several other states have lively virtual school programs—Florida has a flexible system of multiple providers, South Carolina a statewide program, and Utah students can take virtual classes along with brick-and-mortar schools’ classes, Butcher said.

Equitable Funding
Under SB 1259, virtual schools would receive the same per-student funding as brick-and-mortar schools. They currently receive 5 percent less funding for full-time students, said Susan Patrick, president International Association for K-12 Online Learning.

“The bill would look at funding online public schools equitably and paying for student success,” she said.

But instead of receiving all funding at the beginning of each term, virtual schools would receive half the money per student after the child had taken the class for 10 days, another 35 percent of the money when the student finished the class, and the final 15 percent after the student displayed mastery of the subject, according to state Sen. Rich Crandall’s (R-Mesa) legislation.

Similar legislation worked well in Florida, Butcher said.

“We can’t forget that [virtual] schools are servicing students that no on else can accommodate,” Butcher said. This may include athletes who travel, students who have been bullied and no longer feel comfortable in a traditional classroom, or students homebound by a chronic disease or injury.

He said students need access to different types of classes to learn diverse skills for their future jobs.

If we can’t prepare students for what work the workforce requires, other nations will get ahead of the USA,” Butcher said. “The United States can’t let a one-size-fits-all attitude get in the way of preparing kids for what lies ahead.”

Image by Tim and Selena Middleton.