Let Online Learning Flourish

Online learning continues to grow in Michigan and around the nation. The International Association for K-12 Online Learning estimates that public school students took 1.8 million courses online in 2010, and another 250,000 students were enrolled in full-time online schools in 2011. A recent survey of Michigan school districts conducted by the Mackinac Center found that about 90 percent of them offer students some form of online learning opportunity.

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Recently, policymakers made it possible for more parents to choose a full-time online schooling option by increasing the enrollment caps in so-called “cyber charter schools.” But there is much more they could do to make more of these opportunities available to more students.

Current administrative rules restrict districts from collecting state aid on behalf of students enrolled in more than two online learning courses. The Michigan Department of Education has issued “seat-time waivers” to allow districts to collect funding for students enrolled in more than two online courses, but this is just a temporary fix. Lawmakers should remove that barrier.

Moreover, even though the Internet is without boundaries, under current law a student’s ability to enroll in online programs is still limited by local and intermediate school district boundaries. These “schools-of-choice” boundaries just don’t make sense when any school in the state can easily provide instruction to any student in with the help of technology.

Finally, Michigan law also restricts a school’s ability to serve students online students who happen to reside in other districts. Currently, if a school district would like to operate a facility outside its district boundaries to service these nonresidents, it must get the permission of these students’ resident districts in order to collect funding of their behalf. That’s not likely to happen because the resident district would be voluntarily surrendering its shot at collecting state aid for those students.

Such rules and regulations are no longer appropriate in an era when top-notch instruction can be provided without the traditional limitations of time, place and space.

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