Do you remember January of 2016? Adele’s Hello was displaced by Justin Bieber’s Sorry at the top of the Billboard charts, Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Piazza were elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, and The Martian won the Golden Globe for best picture.
That same month, we at the Show-Me Institute released Course Access in Missouri: Diversity, Personalization, and Opportunity. That paper highlighted the dire need for higher-level courses in hundreds of school districts across the state, and it also offered a solution already used by numerous states around the country: Course Access. Course Access allows students to take a portion of the funds that the state spends to educate them to a provider outside of their traditional school.
If a student’s school only offers Spanish, but he’d like to study Mandarin, then when his classmates head to Spanish class, he could head to the library to log into an online Mandarin course. If he wants to take Calculus, but his school only offers up to Algebra II, he can get funding to take that class.
Promoting Course Access was part of both the 2017 Blueprint for Missouri and the 2018 Blueprint for Missouri. We have blogged about Course Access, created videos about Course Access, testified about the benefits of Course Access, and penned op-eds about Course Access.
Last night the legislature sent SB 603 to the Governor, which will create a course access program. The bill passed with huge bipartisan majorities in both chambers. At a time of great dysfunction in state government, it is great that legislators were able to come together to do right by Missouri’s students. Of course, as with all “omnibus”-style bills, there are provisions that we think are less than helpful, but such is the way democracy works. To be sure, we would love to see educational choice expanded further—with education savings account programs and the expansion of charter schooling, for example—but a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, and this was a good one.
Now the real work begins. Parents need to know that this option is available to them. Schools need to figure out how to leverage this program to broaden their course offerings. Districts need to see Course Access offerings as part of the portfolio of classes that they make available to students and think hard about how they can help solve staffing problems and promote efficiency and effectiveness.
These are exciting times! Congratulations to all involved. We will be following this program closely and working to publicize its availability. Stay tuned!