Student with laptop computer taking notes
Michael Q. McShane

Course Access is a hot topic in Missouri right now. Both the governor and legislature have made it a priority, and, at least so far, it is enjoying broad, bipartisan support. Now it is a matter of getting it done. As it turns out, there is no one exact way to “do” course access. There are, in fact, several possible paths.

One path, outlined in the governor’s budget, simply funds a course access program. Missouri already has the architecture with its Missouri Virtual Instruction Program (MOVIP), but there simply aren’t funds for students to take advantage of it. Governor Greitens proposed $2 million in funding so that students could access those courses.

Legislation now making its way through the legislature is taking a second path. House Bill 138 and Senate Bills 327, 238, and 360 create a course access program funded by redirecting existing funds that the state sends to school districts. If students want to take a course access program course, the fraction of funding that would have funded the class in their school of residence is used to pay for it. What’s great about these plans is that, as their fiscal notes attest, they cost the state zero additional dollars. They simply redirect existing spending.

A third is outlined in this great piece by AEI’s Rick Hess and the Manhattan Institute’s Max Eden. The broader article is about how states can best use the flexibility inherent in the Every Student Succeeds Act (the 2015 update to No Child Left Behind), but this paragraph stands out:

State education leaders would do well to employ ESSA’s direct student-services provision, which allows states to set aside a portion of federal Title I funds in order to support districts that are expanding instructional choice (in addition to school choice) for students. This means expanding choices for students without requiring that they opt to change schools, as with “course access” programs. Such initiatives, pioneered in Louisiana and Utah, use state funds to provide students the opportunity to access a range of online courses that their school might not offer — and to pursue them at their own pace. Under ESSA, states can use up to 3 percent of federal Title I funds to deliver online-course options that give rural students access to subjects that their schools don’t offer, to give all students access to Advanced Placement, and to give high schools the ability to deliver robust career and technical training.

According to this table, Missouri school districts get a little bit north of $240 million per year in Title I dollars. Three percent of that would be $7.2 million. This could fund thousands of course enrollments.

Taken together, Missouri could draw from several wells of funding to create a robust course access program that ensures that every student in the state has access to the coursework that best fits their needs.

For an overview of course access and information on how it has been implemented in other states, see this essay that Brittany Wagner and I co-wrote last year.

About the Author

Michael McShane
Mike McShane is the Director of Education Policy for the Show-Me Institute. He is a former high school teacher and earned his PhD in Education Policy at the University of Arkansas. Before coming to the Show-Me Institute, Mike worked at the American Enterprise Institute as a research fellow.