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01.23.12 Two Iowa Districts to Launch Virtual Schools for Statewide Enrollment
Two Iowa school districts will launch online-only schools in fall 2012, a move Iowa education officials say shows the potential--and need--for more online learning opportunities in the state.
The CAM Community School District,  a district of 470 students in rural Southwest Iowa, plans to be the sponsor of Iowa Connections Academy for kindergarten through 12th-grade students.
Clayton Ridge Community School District, a rural eastern Iowa district,  and K12 Inc., will provide K-6 online courses through the Iowa Virtual Academy. The district hopes to add middle school and high school courses in the future.
Any Iowa student can attend these schools.
The development of the programs proves there is a pent-up demand in Iowa for online-only K-12 classes, Phil Wise, policy adviser with the Iowa Department of Education, told the Des Moines Register.
Under Gov. Terry Brandstad's education reform proposal, $5.4 million would be allocated over three years to increase the number of virtual classes now offered by the state.
“This is an example of where the state needs to catch up with technology that is moving quickly on its own,” Wise said during a House subcommittee meeting examining Gov.Brandstad's $25 million school improvement plan.
The proposal calls for the expansion of Iowa Learning Online, an existing state initiative that provides distance education to state high school students.
A legislative brief released this month by the governor’s office calls for additional money to be spent on the program annually for each of the next three years.
01.06.12 Governor Releases Plan for Online Education
Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad and Lt. Gov.  Kim Reynolds released a plan  to improve Iowa schools that makes online learning a central part of the reform effort.
One of the proposals would create two pathways for online learning in schools across the state.  The first would allow districts to engage directly with service providers.  Choosing this option would require the districts to undertake the responsibility of ensuring the courses offered by the provider meet the state's quality standards.
The second method would expand the existing Iowa Learning Online (ILO) to "serve as a statewide clearinghouse for quality online content that meets Iowa quality standards." This would allow districts to purchase courses from ILO.  All of the courses provided by ILO would meet the state standards.
Click here for links to the document and to a video of the press conference where the plan was announced.
09.15.11 Educators to Iowa Board of Education: Expand Iowa Learning Online

A committee of educators and business leaders presented the Iowa State Board of Education with recommendations for expanding Iowa Learning Online. The program, which now has 625 students, offers 13 courses for high school credit to Iowa students.
The group’s proposal calls for adding to the program over three years. The state would increase the courses it offers, while boosting enrollment to 5,000 students. The growth would allow students to take online courses full or part time, while providing them access to classes their school might not offer.
Leaders estimate the recommendations would cost just more than $6 million over the three years. Money would come from tuition and state funds. Committee members said they are looking at possibly charging districts upward of $300 per semester hour, although students in other states with online schools typically only pay $150, said Gwen Wallace Nagel, an Iowa Department of Education consultant.
Currently, Iowa offers its online courses free.
The state board made online learning one of its top priorities this year. The proposed expansion also fits into Gov. Terry Branstad’s plans to overhaul the state’s education system, spurring innovation in teaching to better meet the needs of technologically savvy students. Online courses also provide students with more flexibility and base success on what students learn rather than how much time they spend in the classroom.
Board members applauded the group’s work, although some said they wanted to increase enrollment faster than what is outlined in the plan.
“Twenty-five other states have more students than we do in virtual learning,” said Max Phillips, state board member. “We need to learn, but we don’t need to go slow, because our students are already behind.”

03.23.11 Charter, Innovation Zone Measure Moves Through Legislature

The Iowa House approved changes in what some call one of the nation's weakest charter school laws. The changes, supporter say, will enhance development of education innovation.
The bill, House File 585 now moves on to the Senate Education Committee.
Basically, House File 585 amends Iowa's charter school and innovation zone school laws. It separates the approval process for the two types of schools by requiring charter schools to be approved by the local school board, as opposed to the state board of education. Innovation zone school applications will still be approved by the state board.
HF 585 also allows more entities to apply for a charter school, including community colleges, universities, nonpublic schools, private colleges, and nonprofits. Current law only allows for a principal, teachers, or parents to apply for converting an existing school into a charter.
The state board of education only approved the guidelines for innovation zone schools in November 2010. According to Iowa law, an innovation zone consortium charter school is conceived of two or more districts, plus its local Area Education Agency. Iowa only has eight charter schools at this time. It has no innovation zone consortium charter schools.

01.19.10 Governor  Signs Bill That Clears Way for Education Innovation Zones
In a letter, Kevin Fangman, acting director of Iowa's education department, highlighted legislation that is "designed to encourage diverse approaches to student learning."
The legislation requires that changes be made to persistently "lowest-achieving" schools so the schools can receive federal school improved grants.
This means Iowa must lift its charter school cap. It also allows the state board of education to approve innovation zone consortiums.
Fangman noted that administrative rules on creation of innovation zones will be developed.


Iowa has a state-led virtual school. It is called Iowa Learning Online (ILO).It offers a blended program with Internet, face-to-face and video instruction. Funding for the stat's other online program, the Iowa Online Advanced Placement Academy, ended. The ILO has picked up the cost of offering online Advanced Placement course to Iowa high schools. 
 Iowa has one of the nation's weakest charter school laws, according to the Center for Education Reform. That is one reason it does not have a full-time virtual school.
Nearly 700 Iowa students were enrolled in online programs during the 2008-09 school year.
Iowa does not have a virtual charter school that offers courses to students statewide.What's more, there is little movement within the state to enhance, encourage or increase distance learning options.