Ballot Measure Would Lower California’s Online Learning Barriers

Published January 20, 2012

A proposed ballot initiative would give California high school students the right to access classes required for admission to state universities, regardless of where they live.

The Student Bill of Rights initiative removes state barriers to online and blended learning, which could expand drastically if the measure passes.

A 2009 University of California study generated the initiative by revealing nearly half of California’s 2007 high school class received diplomas without meeting basic admission requirements for two major state-funded universities, the University of California and California State University.

“Parents are realizing that the best education their kids can get is not necessarily the closest to them,” said Education Forward chair David Haglund, whose organization is sponsoring the initiative.

State regulations severely curtail the classes students can take offsite—whether offered online, at community college, or in another school district, he noted.

Lack of Access
The college admission standards, called A-G requirements, are fairly simple: two years of qualifying classes in history or social science, four years of English, tree years of math, two years of lab science, two years of a non-English language, one year of visual or performing arts, and one year of college preparatory electives.

But rural or inner-city schools often lack qualified teachers or too many students need remedial classes, Haglund said. One million students are enrolled in schools that don’t offer the courses necessary to gain UC or CSU admission, according to Education Forward.

Although some students can enroll in online classes, they’re limited to programs located in their district, county, or a contiguous county.

Expanding Options
Under the new regulations, students and districts would have several options to access the required courses:

  • The school or district can contract with an online provider to offer their own online program.
  • The student can take classes at any classroom-based, blended learning, or online program at any other publicly funded school, college, or university.
  • The student can enroll in a blended learning or online course offered by an accredited online school “in which the student, instructor and resources are in different locations and interact through the use of information and communications technologies.”

The initiative would also establish the “California diploma,” which would require students to pass all A-G classes to graduate.

Expanding online learning will offer students the ability to learn at their own pace, said Michael Horn, executive director of education at the Innosight Institute. Traditional classroom education can leave “holes in your learning,” he said, but with online education, “I’ll only move on when I’ve truly mastered the concept.”

Advanced students would be able to enroll in advanced placement or college classes, said Bill Lucia, president of Edvoice, an advocacy organization in Sacramento. Lucia’s five children are currently enrolled in an online learning program. He said he has seen it work firsthand.

Reworking School Funding
Although similar proposals have been presented in the legislature in past years, they’ve met opposition because expanding student access to courses outside their district would require “substantial reworking” of the educational finance system, Horn said. The current proposal would remedy that.

California determines a school’s funding based on Average Daily Attendance, or the number of days students spend at their physical school. Under the proposed initiative, funding will follow the student. If a student takes 25 percent of her courses online, and 75 percent at her public school, then the student’s funding will divide between them accordingly.

“If districts are providing 100 percent of the education, they should get 100 percent of the [funds],” Haglund said. “But if they’re not providing 100 percent of the education, should they keep 100 percent of the funding?”

Haglund said he hopes the fractional funding model will open the door for appropriating funding to separate programs with proven student learning outcomes.

“Once we pull the issue and put it in the people’s hands, the legislature will be more responsive to the issue.”

For the initiative to qualify for the Nov. 7 ballot, Education Forward must collect 504,760 signatures of registered voters by June 1,


Image by Chris.