by Chuck Bennett, Director of Government Relations
As reported by Tigard-Tualatin Superintendent Rob Saxton at the OASE “Off The Record” meeting last Friday, the State Board of Education has begun work on online school guidelines in response to legislation passed during the Special Session in February. (Saxton is the current superintendent adviser to the State Board.)
The policy issues in front of the Board were developed by COSA and its education partners. Issues being discussed include governance, funding and participation among various student populations. Here are copies of documents reviewed by the state Board on Friday, including: written testimony from OEA, the Board’s internal topic summary, a table of various governance models and a model online school approval process. These documents provide some good background on the current discussion.
Between now and the next State Board discussion on online education, I will be participating in a small Board work group on this issue. At the same time, COSA will be reviewing various alternatives over the next several weeks and providing written information to the Board members regarding issues of importance.
As always, it would be helpful to hear from you on this issue. If you have thoughts or concerns or questions, please share them in the comment section below, or contact me (email@example.com).
The State Board will report its findings to a legislative interim committee by September. The interim committee will determine if legislation is needed to change current laws around online schools. COSA and other education groups will continue to weigh in with the Board and legislature as this process moves along.
The issue of online schools will also be part of a broader discussion on charter schools. The charter school law is up for a tenth anniversary review by the legislature in the next session. COSA, OASE and OACOA leaders have identified the review of the charter school law as a key policy focus for the coming year.
Here is a brief look at some of the online school issues being considered by the Board:
Most of Oregon’s existing online schools are in place under the state’s charter school law. The impact of this approach has been to create a virtual voucher program without clear district control over education quality or content of their students enrolling in the programs. The state Board’s charge is to determine if this or another governance model better serves individual student needs and district education goals.
Various models are being discussed including statewide rather than district charters for the online providers, district-operated online schools, ESD or consortium-operated online schools or a state-operated online school district at the Department of Education. COSA and its education partners have been advocates of statewide coordination of online learning rather than the current use of the charter school law.
The Board also has been asked by the Legislature to develop a plan for funding of virtual public schools. The funding model will most likely depend on which proposed governance model is chosen and whether the state retains the current charter school model with its proscribed fund allocations.
The Board also has been asked to report to the Legislature on participation rates of children with disabilities in virtual public schools including the chartered ones.
At its initial meeting, the state Board heard from a number of stakeholders on the issue and began a review of its own general models and principles on the topic. Generally the Board’s principles have recognized: the need for high quality education in any medium; that a student’s home district has ultimate responsibility for a child’s education; that there should be a variety of online education opportunities to meet student needs; that there must be solid fiscal accountability; and that the whole concept is new and requires some oversight.
Previous Board discussions on a governance model have focused on a state approved program with tight rules on availability, minimum services, populations to be served, certification criteria, and educational and financial accountability.
The Board also has identified several outstanding, unanswered policy questions: regulation of in-district online services, online options including part-time programs, issues beyond the requirements of the bill passed by the Legislature.