Student studying online

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Susan Pendergrass

I knew it might be too good to be true. During the 2018 legislative session, lawmakers passed and the Governor signed a bill that allows all public school students to take courses online with their home district covering the tuition. Students don’t need to justify why they want to take a course online, but the school could deny them if they think it’s not in the student’s “best interest.”

This means that students in rural schools without a wide course selection could take any AP course. Students with irregular schedules—possibly because they’re intensely committed to a sport—could take some classes in a building and some online. Bullied students could choose to take their entire courseload online. Parents who want to homeschool, but aren’t comfortable doing it themselves, would get assistance. In other words, it means giving parents options that they want and need.

But the devil, in this case, is in the implementation. I’d heard rumors that districts weren’t complying with the law's requirement that they make the availability of this option clear on their websites. I’d heard that Missouri’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) was interpreting the law’s requirement that the program launch in fall 2018 as a requirement to begin looking into curriculum providers in 2018.

But now, what concerned me most has happened. A parent has had to sue their child’s district to get access to the program. The parents wanted to choose an existing virtual program, known as MOVA, provided by the Grandview R-2 district. Their home district, Fulton, denied the request because they don’t use curricula from other districts. They haven’t even gone through the process of determining if it’s in the child’s best interest, as required by the law. They just gave them a flat “no.”

Survey after survey tells us that parents, especially young parents, want more choice regarding their children’s education. The powers that be may be able to deny them for a little while, as is happening in the Fulton Public School District. But parents can be a powerful force, and that approach won’t work forever.

About the Author

Susan Pendergrass
Director of Research and Education Policy

Susan Pendergrass was Vice President of Research and Evaluation for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools before joining the Show-Me Institute. Prior to coming to the National Alliance, Susan was a senior policy advisor at the U.S. Department of Education during the Bush administration and a senior research scientist at the National Center for Education Statistics during the Obama administration. She earned a Ph.D. in Public Policy from George Mason University.