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03.30.11 Gov. Signs Much-Debated Online Education Bill

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert signed a bill to expand the state's online learning programs.
Up to the last minute, there were fears that Herbert would veto the legislation because of financial concerns and anxiety over the impact the measure would have on the Utah Electronic High School.
The bill will allow school districts and online charter schools to offer online classes to students throughout the state. Funding will follow the students, meaning instead of a student’s home district getting all the funding for that student, the school providing the online course will get part of it. The bill also will continue funding for the Utah Electronic High School for another year before making that school compete with other providers for dollars.
Critics of the bill, however, have worried about redirecting money from the Utah Electronic High School and school districts to other online schools. Now, the Electronic High School gets a set amount of state funding each year, but under the bill, it would have to start competing with other providers for those dollars in 2012-13. But the bill also directs the Education Interim Committee to study the Electronic High School’s role and funding before the next legislative session.
Originally, the bill would have allowed private and out-of-state providers to offer online courses to Utah students and compete with public schools for those dollars, leading some opponents to label it a voucher bill. That provision, however, was removed before the Legislature passed it.



03.11.11 Bill to Expand Online Opportunities Clears All Hurdles; Awaits Gov.'s Signature

The Utah Legislature approve SB 65, which will expand online education opportunities by allowing school districts and online charter schools to offer online classes to students throughout the state. Funding would follow the students, meaning instead of a student’s home district getting all the funding for that student, the school providing the online course would get part of the money.
The bill originally would have allowed private providers to also get state funding for offering online classes, but that controversial provision was removed in the House. The next day, Utah's Senate agreed to the change with no dissenting votes.
Liberating Learning blog contributor Michael B. Horn called the changes "reasonable."
The final version of the bill will reduce the amount of money that providers could receive for offering an online course from about $900 to about $700, with 50 percent of that money received up front and 50 percent received after a student successfully completes a course. And, unlike the earlier version, it continues funding the Electronic High School for another year before making the school compete with other providers for dollars.
The bill now goes to the governor for his signature.


03.03.11 One Day After Rejection Online School Expansion, State Senate Approves Same Bill

On March 1, the Utah state Senate voted down SB 65, a bill that would allow state money to follow students who take online classes offered by public and private providers. In some cases this would create competition for Utah's state-led Electronic High School, but some legislators said competition in the education arena is a good thing. 
"Right now students are not able to take courses a la carte from anybody except the monopoly at the State Office of Education, the bill's sponsor Sen. Howard Stephenson, told the Salt Lake Tribune."I think that’s wrong. ... I think it’s time we move into the 21st century with this process."
On March 2, the situation changed. The Utah state Senate voted 17-12 in favor of the plan.
The legislation was sent to the House, where it was introduced and awaits committee assignment.


02.09.11 Senate Committee Approves Bill to Expand Online Course Opportunities

A State Senate Committee approved a bill introduced by . Sen Howard Stephenson introduced that would expand online learning options in Utah.
SB 65, the "Statewide Online Education Program" makes provision for multiple statewide providers and student choice to the course level. The bill aims to expand learning opportunities for students by allowing them to take online courses offered by public and private providers to be certified by the state school board. The funding would follow the students, meaning instead of a local district getting all the cash for that student, whoever provided the course would get part of it.
It also

* Provide high quality learning options for all students regardless of language, zip code, income levels or special needs.

* Utilize the power and scalability of technology to customize education to allow students to learn in their own style preference and at their own pace.

* Provide greater access to self-paced programs enabling a high achieving student to accelerate academically, while a struggling student can access additional time and help to gain competency.

SB65 encourages providers to support completion by withholding 40% of the funding until the student successfully finishes a course. The bill expands options and creates the opportunity for students to graduate early.  More options, better outcomes, reduced costs—it’s a good deal for Utah students, schools, and taxpayers.
Debate over Stephenson's bill has hit the blogosphere with one blogger calling it "the virtual voucher bill."
Sharon Gallagher-Fishbaugh, president of the Utah Education Association (UEA),  told the committee she believes SB65 is "a voucher bill." The UEA was a fierce opponent of school vouchers in 2007.
She said she’s concerned the bill could result in Utahns’ tax dollars being sent to out-of-state online providers and is "a little bit concerned we are talking about expanding a program in a year when we are having so many budget cuts."
The bill passed the Senate Education Committee unanimously, with two members absent, and now moves to the Senate floor.

01.27.11 Bill would Expand Online Options for High Schoolers

State Sen. Howard Stephenson is working on a bill with Parents for Choice in Education to expand opportunities for high school students to earn credit online by creating a way to authorize public and private providers.
Stephenson's bill also seeks to make it easier for students to take advantage of online courses.
 High school students would initially be allowed to take up to two courses online. State money would follow the students, meaning instead of a student’s regular school getting all the funding for that student, whoever provided the course would get part of the money.
"We ought to be willing to have our institutions, our schools, compete along with everybody else for students interest in obtaining high school credit,” Stephenson told the Salt Lake City Tribune. “Online has the capacity to individualize instruction in ways that a traditional classroom does not. We can see that many students who are currently falling between the cracks and failing in school actually thrive in an online environment.”
Some, however, are concerned about the potential cost of the proposal to the public school system.
“Before we start talking about educational experiments, we need to fund the education system that we have,” Sharon Gallagher-Fishbaugh, Utah Education Association president told the Salt Lake City Tribune. “We are once again talking about taking money away from an already strapped, overburdened, underfunded system in our state.”
Utah students may already take some courses online though such providers as the Utah Electronic High School, some school districts and some charter schools. But Stephenson’s proposed bill seeks to encourage more offerings in addition to changing the way they’re funded.
Under the proposal, a course provider would receive part of the funding for the student upfront and the rest once the student completed the course — a measure meant to hold providers accountable. Providers would initially be school districts, statewide programs or charter schools. Before the second year, the state school board would create a process for other public and private programs outside of districts and charter schools to provide courses.



10.05.10 Public Policy Think Tank Calls on State to Invest in Online Education

The Sutherland Institute issued a report, Money Matters: Investing in Online Education that calls on Utah legislators to turn to online learning as a "cost-effective way to educate children." The writers add that online education "is likely to make the public education system more cost-effective over time."
The report adds, "Faced with continuing budget shortfalls, rising public school enrollments, and ever-increasing costs from employee salaries and benefits, school districts in Utah have laid off employees, frozen salaries, shortened the school year, and raised taxes in order to make ends meet. Perhaps even more troubling, some education policy experts point out that public education’s budget challenges are not likely to be resolved for several years.
"Now is the time that state policy makers and education leaders should invest in online learning to improve the bang for Utah’s education buck."
Click here to read the full report.

 
 
Open High School of Utah is about to start its second year of operation. DeLaina Tonks, director of the online charter, says the school is growing and is "100 percent committed" to innovative and collaboartive teaching and learning. Here, in a conversation with Creative Commons, Tonks talks about the online charter and the future of virtual edcuation. 
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HISTORY

Utah has a state-led virtual school. It is called the Electronic High School and is primarily a supplemental program in local school districts. In the 2009-2010 school year, the school served almost  1,300 students. It can, however, grant diplomas to a restricted group of Utah students: those who are exclusively homes-schooled, those who have dropped out of school and whose class has graduated, and those referred by their districts.

Utah has two virtual charter schools that offers courses to students throughout the state.
  The Utah Virtual Academy, the state's first virutal public charter school, will open for the 2010-2011 school year. Enrollment is expected to be capped at 2,050 students. It will serve K-12 students. The Open High School of Utah, an open source online charter school initiated by professors at Utah State University, began enrolling ninth-grade students statewide in the fall of 2009; it is funded in the same way as all charter schools in the state.
   Three other online charter school applications are being considered for 2011. Four districts offer online elementary courses with curriculum provided by K12 Inc., or by the local district.

In May 2010, the NCAA said it would no longer accept Brigham Young University Independent Study Program credits from high school students seeking to play in Division 1 The  BYU Independent Study program,  continues to be  accredited by the Northwest Association of Accredited Schools (NAAS) and the Distance Education and Training Council.

In March 2011, Gov. Gary Herbert sign SB 65, the so-called Online Education Bill, into law. The bill will allow school districts and online charter schools to offer online classes to students throughout the state. Funding will follow the students, meaning instead of a student’s home district getting all the funding for that student, the school providing the online course will get part of it. The bill also will continue funding for the Utah Electronic High School for another year before making that school compete with other providers for dollars.Originally, the bill would have allowed private and out-of-state providers to offer online courses to Utah students and compete with public schools for those dollars, leading some opponents to label it a voucher bill. That provision, however, was removed before the Legislature passed it.

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