Georgia House Passes Digital Learning Bill, 125 – 38

By Mike Klein

Mike Klein, Forum Editor

Georgia’s current sixth graders will start high school with more digital learning options.  Monday the House passed Senate legislation to expand those resources and prohibit local systems from blocking students who want to take online courses.  The bill passed 125 – 38.  Georgia Virtual School would manage the expansion and emerge with a more ambitious footprint.  Having already passed the Senate, the bill is now ready for Governor Nathan Deal’s consideration.

Senate Bill 289 stipulates that expanded digital learning options in high schools would start to become available in the fall 2014 school year.  Rep. Mike Dudgeon presented the legislation on the floor, saying, “When this bill is fully implemented in 2018 I think we will look back and say this bill is really not that big of a deal because we will have moved so far in technology.”

This session lawmakers also passed House Bill 175 to establish a clearinghouse of online courses that would be available to students statewide.   Georgia Virtual School would select the courses from public school systems, or from charter schools that nominate their courses.

Senate Bill 289 directs the state Board of Education to “maximize the number of students” who could participate in digital learning.  The initial Senate version by Majority Leader Chip Rogers sought to mandate that each high school student take at least one online course before graduation.   “Mandate” was replaced with “maximize” before Senate passage.

“We are setting policy about how we want education to move in the big picture,” Dudgeon told the House.  “This is not a mandate.  This is telling the state board to set policies to maximize these opportunities across the state.”  Rogers and Dudgeon have both said Georgia Virtual School could serve 100,000 students per year.  Currently, GAVS has 10,000 students taking regular online curriculum.  It also offers credit recovery courses.

Highlights from Senate Bill 289:  Make digital learning available to more high school students statewide through GAVS; prohibit local school systems from blocking participation by students who want to select digital learning courses; and, change the funding formula so GAVS and the local school share the $650 total reimbursement when students choose a GAVS course.

The reimbursement question is an important point.  Currently, local schools lose all $650 when a student chooses a GAVS course over one offered inside the traditional classroom.  This has been a strong incentive for local schools to deny students when they request permission to take a Georgia Virtual course.  Under the new formula GAVS would receive up to $250 to cover its costs while the local school would receive up to $400 maximum.

The legislation further stipulates that the state shall make end-of-course tests available online by the 2015 – 2016 school year.  This is a forceful response to test cheating scandals in Atlanta Public Schools and other school systems.  “It certainly prevents the adults from cheating,” Dudgeon said, because scores would be recorded in state computers and local school personnel would not evaluate or have the ability to change end-of-course test answers.

Dudgeon also noted, “We know there are financial issues.  Some districts may not have the money or the technology.  One goal of the (schools funding) finance commission next year is going to be to allow more money to be pointed toward technology.”

Click here to read an earlier Georgia Public Policy Forum article about this legislation.

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