Capitol reporter Mary Wilson covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.
A plan to make online courses available to middle school and high school students in Pennsylvania is before the state House.
Online education in the commonwealth has been limited, for the most part, to cyber charter schools and a few brick-and-mortar schools. But Rep. Ryan Aument (R-Lancaster) wants to make all school districts offer such classes to students in grades six through 12.
The first step, he proposes, is getting the state to make a database of vetted cyber courses. Such a clearinghouse, Aument told a House committee last week, would provide "greater course choice, newer opportunity for students, and a more customized, individualized learning experience for our students."
Aument said his measure would bring Pennsylvania in league with other states like Louisiana, which offers online courses to public brick-and-mortar schools. Popular choices in Louisiana, Aument said, include ACT/SAT Prep, welding and pipe-fitting, and math tutoring.
The legislation would also open up a new market for commercial online course providers.
"Certainly it gives companies like ours ways to offer our learning in some ways for school districts to think outside the box," said Melanie Pritchett, director of policy with Compass Learning, which already serves cyber schools in Pennsylvania. She also suggested making the cyber classes available may not be such a simple task for poorer schools.
"I think it varies," said Pritchett. "I think, certainly, equity and access does become an issue."
Democrats voiced concern the proposal would amount to an unfunded mandate for school districts.
But Aument pitches the idea as a way for brick and mortar school to lure back students that have left for cyber charter schools. He said the statewide clearinghouse may even present a money-making opportunity for some districts.
"There's a real potential for school districts who design courses and submit to the clearinghouse, or contract with other school districts who do not, to potentially generate revenue," Aument said. "I think there's the potential for that."
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