The businessmen want to buy access to the online high school's curriculum, sell it to adult and international students and tap a market they say is potentially worth millions. The men pitched their plan to the state Board of Education on Friday, which greeted it with guarded optimism.
"We're always looking for a revenue stream," said board member Mark Cluff of Alpine. "Let's look at this as a business."
The product Anthony E. Meyer and Paul Zane Pilzer hope to sell is a U.S. high school diploma.
They envision an untapped market of adult and foreign students who want an actual diploma rather than a General Educational Diploma or international baccalaureate certificate. Rather than developing an online curriculum from scratch, the two want to offer potential students courses that already are proven and accredited.
That's why they're eyeing Utah's Electronic High School, which came online in 1994 and now serves roughly 57,000 students.
Meyer and Pilzer first approached the board in June about starting The American Academy, a "second private campus" of Utah's online school.
The board requested a more concrete business plan, which the pair presented at Friday's meeting. The board agreed to the plan in theory and voted unanimously to study whether it's feasible, practical and legal.
Private businesses routinely develop and market curricula to public educators, but the reverse process is rare, said David Griffith, a spokesman for the National Association of State Boards of Education.
"The other way, where a private business is buying something developed by the school or district or state, is a unique twist," he said. "That's really unusual; that would send up a lot of yellow flags to me."
Several Utah education officials also want to proceed with caution.
Meyer said the proposed American Academy would seek no public funding, wouldn't compete for Utah's high school students and could only bolster the state's reputation.
But board member Tim Beagley of West Valley City questioned whether the board needs legislative approval to enter a deal that could generate new income.
Carol Lear, the director of school law and legislation, believes the board has that authority but wonders whether it can assure the quality of American Academy teachers and curriculum.
"We don't want to appear to be - or be - a diploma mill," she said.
Board member Teresa Theurer of Logan raised a concern echoed by several board members: that a large-scale online academy would drain Utah's already-shallow teacher pool.
The American Academy envisions using Utah-licensed teachers to educate hundreds of thousands of students. What's to stop Utah teachers from fleeing classrooms to work from home, Theurer asked.
Pilzer said he and his partner were sensitive to the issue and encouraged the board to set any conditions it needed to protect its interests. He envisioned an army of retired and part-time teachers at the academy, but specific suggestions for stemming a public school teacher exodus weren't discussed.
Meyer and Pilzer wanted to gauge state interest before hashing out the particulars, they said. That's why they also had only general suggestions about how they would pay to use Utah's curriculum. Any financial agreement could include a one-time licensing fee or ongoing contractual payments.
Now that the board has expressed interest, a committee of trustees and State Office of Education employees will explore possible parameters.
"I'm excited and impressed by your proposal," said board member Randall Mackey. "I suggest we move forward and take a more formal role."