The House Education Committee on Tuesday passed a bill that would allow West Virginia county school systems to offer full-time K-12 virtual education and “an online pathway for earning a high school diploma,” while also receiving the full per-pupil state school aid formula funding for each student who participates.
Kanawha County Schools Superintendent Ron Duerring spoke to delegates Tuesday in favor of the bill (SB 630). He said the bill also would allow participating students, including home-schoolers, to participate in sports and other public school-related activities.
“We have about 800 students in our district that are not enrolled in the public school system,” Duerring said. “So when I started talking with a bunch of those parents out in the community, when we started talking about this program, to start developing it, they said we can buy into this.”
He said these parents said they have issues teaching higher-level classes like physics or trigonometry to their children.
“It certainly won’t displace teachers in any way, shape, or form,” Duerring said. He said “our philosophy” is if a school offers a course, the child should take the course at the school.
But the bill, while also stating that it’s not intended to save money through personnel cuts, exempts the online courses from things like maximum teacher-pupil ratios.
He mentioned that his school system has had issues finding enough qualified math teachers, something that could be solved by another county’s teacher providing online instruction to Kanawha students. He declined to provide a reporter further details about how Kanawha’s plan may work, saying “I think that’s still up for discussion” and that he wants to bring other people into the planning process.
The bill passed the state Senate 33-0 last week, with Jeff Mullins, R-Raleigh, the only senator absent. It passed House Education Tuesday in a voice vote with only Delegate Robert Thompson, D-Wayne, voting no.
K12 Inc. lobbyists Jason Webb and Ben Beakes and K12 Senior Director for School Development Seth McKinzie also were in Tuesday’s committee meeting. K12 Inc. is a company that provides online education.
McKinzie was the only K12 representative called up to answer delegates’ questions.
Duerring said he had spoken with Webb about his ideas before speaking to Senate Education Committee Chairman Kenny Mann, R-Monroe, about the issue.
The superintendent said that if the bill passes, Kanawha won’t necessarily use K12. He said there would be a request for qualifications process for vendors to compete for the possible work.
The bill would allow a county school board or groups of school boards to offer “virtual instruction programs,” which provide “a full-time online or blended program of instruction for students enrolled in any composition of grades kindergarten through twelve.”
The bill defines “blended” programs as those that at least partly include online learning and at least partly include education “in a supervised setting outside the home.”
It says minimum qualifications for faculty must adhere to a section of current state law.
To create a virtual program, a county school board would have to choose to create a policy that lays out how the program will work. The bill says that after adopting such a policy a board “may contract with virtual school providers.”
The legislation says students in the virtual programs must meet the same state testing requirements “as other students in the school district.” The receive a diploma, students must complete “the same coursework required of regular public school students” in the county.
Clayton Burch, chief academic officer for state Department of Education, said the state currently has a West Virginia Virtual Schools program that has about 11,000 students and has grown rapidly in recent years. He said it’s provided by several different vendors, one of which is K12 Inc..
Burch said the state program offers every high school credit required for graduation, plus credit recovery courses and Advanced Placement courses in which students can earn college credits.
While the state program offers classes for elementary and middle schools, Burch said it doesn’t offer every course required for those levels. He said it’s also only full-time in special circumstances. It is available to home school and private school students, but they have to pay for those classes.
“We would hope that it would enhance the number of virtual school opportunities,” Burch said of the bill, which he said seems to basically allow county school boards to set up their own virtual school programs.