Flex Learning represents a bold and innovative plan to give Michigan students, and particularly those from economically disadvantaged households and rural regions, more means and opportunity to chart productive and fulfilling paths toward graduation. While some children in younger grades could also benefit from the ability to customize learning, practical considerations should initially limit eligibility to middle and high school students. This paper proposes two alternative fiscal mechanisms from which policymakers could choose to make the program function:
- Fund parent-directed Flex Learning Accounts at a standard rate — with extra money for low-income families — with accounts administered through a new entity by a state department;
- Fund flexible course options through the foundation allowance and proportional “at-risk” funding normally collected by districts.
The following dozen policy changes would be needed to make the program successful:
- Modify the state's Schools of Choice law to provide true open enrollment, allowing parents to enroll their children in districts and programs without any geographical restrictions. Districts, charter schools and other approved providers would correspondingly receive funding for enrolling students no matter where they happen to reside.
- Permit all districts to offer courses and operate programs anywhere in the state.
- Increase the statewide course catalog's list of eligible providers to include cyber schools and other public charter schools, as well as public universities.
- Allow individual in-person and hybrid courses to be funded through Flex Learning Accounts or directly through a prorated portion of the foundation allowance, in addition to dual-enrollment courses and district-run career programs and apprenticeship programs that partner with one or more districts.
- Require 50% of the course fee to be paid to the Flex Learning provider up front and the remainder upon a student's successful completion. Course prices could be set openly by supply and demand, or prescribed fees according to subject matter set in state law.
- Allow students to accelerate their education and take more than a full load of Flex Learning courses in a given term.
- Obligate districts through the EDP process to notify students annually of their opportunity to participate in Flex Learning, as well as share data on career options, including education requirements, salary, benefits and market demand.
- Allow Flex Learning funds to pay for education-related internet and transportation needs, as well as district- or charter-provided tutoring, guidance services and special education therapies.
- Prohibit students from using Flex Learning for one year if they fail to successfully complete two or more enrolled courses in a given year.
- Provide a financial incentive for Flex Learning students to graduate early, paid out in equal shares to the student's home district and to a scholarship for that student's postsecondary education.
- Adopt a Flex Learning assessment strategy that combines baseline and summative tests to provide reportable aggregate student growth data; online user ratings; and tracking of specific course completions to future attainment.
- Authorize public education providers to accredit individual courses provided by businesses or community groups, which could also be accessed through the statewide course catalog.