Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Online Education Program Amendment - SB0178

This bill, sponsored by Senator Howard Stephenson, was discussed at length in the Senate Education Committee.  Concerns were raised by charter and public schools about how IEP and IB requirements could be met and maintained through online programs.  The majority of online programs are through local school districts; however, some are provided by for-profit, out-of-state companies.  The core may not match Utah's core and the courses may not be taught by highly-qualified teachers.  Senator Stephenson would like to see high school students have a "credit card" where they could shop for the classes they want.

Kory Holdaway with UEA stated that education will look different in the future, but technology will not replace a teacher.  Senator Stephenson stated that the money goes to districts, but Kory said he heard that more money was going to private providers.  Quality of online education needs to be monitored to make sure skills are being learned through the online experience.  We do not want to do a disservice to our students.  Accountability needs to be in place.  He is also concerned about a 72-hour requirement for local districts to respond to an online provider about if the district will carry that online class.

A taxpayer said she doesn't want to pay more for students who choose to take more expensive online classes. Students who transfer mid-term from online to a local district lose the funding.

Sharon Gallagher-Fishbaugh spoke about how students learning needs should be put at the forefront. 

A parent and former teacher from Davis District is concerned about the funding formula.  Apparently there is a $50 bonus to online providers for each student that scores a "4" or at the highest level on an exam.  She suggested this be done for public education.  Would it be sustainable?

Martel Menlove, Deputy Superintendent at the State Office of Education, would like to see more support for Utah's Online High School that has been in place for about 10 years.

Judi Clark from Parents for Choice in Education says they are able to provide information for parents and students on which courses would be meet the students' needs.  She is supportive of the cost structure within the bill.

Committee Chair Senator Osmond summarized the concerns of funding, timing of funding for planning purposes, quality of content and instructors, and bonus is not provided for public education.

Senator Stephenson responded that districts and charters must monitor the quality of online providers they allow students access to.  He wants a market, competitive price structure, which he believes is a better model.  He said he will work with groups to address IEP and IB questions.  He said Utah has been recognized internationally for the online work we are doing.

Senator Thatcher does not want to hold the bill, because it helps refine the Online Education bill from last year.  Senator Morgan supports online education; however, she requests that the bill be held in committee so Senator Stephenson can make needed changes.  Senator Osmond supports bill, but also thinks there are some problems that need to be worked out before going to the floor.  He will support keeping the bill in committee.  The bill was passed out of committee with a favorable recommendation.  Senators Osmond and Morgan voted against this recommendation.

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