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Bill to rewrite controversial online education law advances

Published February 24, 2012 8:40 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

A bill that would rewrite a new, controversial online education law advanced out of committee Friday evening.

Advocates of HB147 say it would help schools offer online courses more cost-efficiently. But opponents say it would mean less choice for students.

The bill would repeal a law created last year that allows high school students to take up to two classes online from other districts and charter schools, instead of at their regular high schools. Under that law, school districts must send about $727 for each full-year course a student takes from a provider outside his home district to the provider.

HB147 would rewrite that law, still allowing students to take two online courses but only from their own school districts or own charters or an outside entity with which a school district chooses to contract. Under HB147, school districts would be required to contract with at least one outside entity other than the Electronic High School (which would continue to offer free online classes), to provide courses.

Bill sponsor Rep. Brad Last, R-Hurricane, said many school districts and charters are now worried that they're paying more to outside providers per student than they're receiving. He said his bill would remove "one of the real disincentives" for schools to put their kids in online classes because they would no longer have to pay providers $727 a class, instead negotiating their own prices with whomever they chose to contract.

It was a bill a number of school district and charter school leaders spoke in support of Friday.

"If we're going to sit here and say, 'We're not going to do anything. We're going to let [the current online education law] roll on,' we're going to bankrupt schools completely," said Heidi Ross with the Tooele School District.

Royce Van Tassell with the Utah Taxpayers Association, however, opposed the bill, saying that it would mean less choice for students, as they would no longer be allowed to take online courses from any other district or charter in the state.

"By having a wide variety of access to all the options in the state, we can ensure parents will be able to partner their students with programs that help them the most," said Judi Clark, executive director of Parents for Choice in Education.

She also noted that lawmakers are already considering a separate bill to change the cost structure for online classes under the current law, though opponents of that bill say the prices it sets are still too high.

The committee passed HB147 by 9-2, meaning it now heads for the House floor.