What spectacle can be more edifying or more seasonable, than that of Liberty and Learning, each leaning on the other for their mutual and surest support?--James Madison
by Missouri Rep. Ed Emery
(R-126 including the counties of Barton, Dade, Jasper and Polk)
If you are a proponent of education and you follow legislative activity about education, you already may be aware of House Bill 1275 introduced by Representative Brian Baker. HB 1275 requires the State Board of Education to establish a virtual school by July 1, 2007. Any student in kindergarten through grade 12 could enroll in this virtual classroom, regardless of where the student lives in Missouri. The participating student would be officially enrolled in the district of their residency. No opposition to HB 1275 was voiced in either the House or Senate committee hearings.
“Virtual school” is a method of teaching that depends on digital technology rather than a physical classroom. It is becoming more common every year and is now part of the education program in 12 other states. A number of companies provide virtual education services which include computers, internet service, textbooks, recorded curriculum instruction, testing services, and personal consultation. There is adequate competition to assure availability of quality service at reasonable cost.
Virtual school can provide opportunities for students who don’t fit the traditional classroom, whether the need is a specialized teacher in a small district, a homebound student in any district, a personal lifestyle issue, and so on. The function of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) in virtual schooling is to serve as an access point for multiple providers and to ensure quality control. DESE would also fund the program.
Although there was no opposition in Committee, concerns have been expressed by the Home School Legal Defense Foundation (HSLDF). Their cautions are over funding and the potential for encroachment upon home schoolers. I spent nearly an hour this week meeting with representatives of a company who offers a virtual school curriculum and is operating in Colorado and Arkansas. They answered all my questions, and I found myself growing more and more enthusiastic over the potential of virtual school.
The program is chosen by parents and can be abandoned if it doesn’t work out. Experience has shown that between one half and one percent of students will try virtual school. Some will return to their former style of education within a few months. I am continuing to study HB 1275 and ways to make it better, but for now, it looks like something I can support. We will be contacting HSLDF to examine their concerns and to make any changes that are needed to the legislation.