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Utah Senate passes bill to tweak controversial online education law

Published March 2, 2012 6:20 pm

SB178 • Districts and charter schools would be able to negotiate fees for Web courses.
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After negotiations, the Utah Senate passed a bill Friday that would tweak a controversial online education program so it could cost school districts less money.

The bill also would allow students to take more total online and traditional classes than they're currently allowed.

The Senate passed SB178 by a vote of 24-1 on Friday after sponsor Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, told lawmakers Thursday he changed the bill after negotiations with Rep. Brad Last, R-Hurricane, who had been running a bill to rewrite the state's online education law entirely.

The program, which was passed into law last year, now allows students in grades 9-12 to take up to two classes online from school districts and charter schools other than their own. When a student does so, the student's home school must pay the course provider $727 per full-year course. Also, the student cannot take the online course in addition to a full course load at his traditional school — instead the online class must replace a traditional one.

Stephenson's original version of SB178 would have modified the program by setting fees for different types of online courses. But many educators still complained the fees would cost schools more than they receive, hurting schools that lose students to online courses.

Others suggested that, instead, school districts and charter schools be allowed to negotiate the fees directly with providers on their own to try to save money.

The version of SB178 passed by the Senate on Friday would do just that.

"We're not going to attempt to fix fees because we believe those should be market-based," Stephenson said of the changes during initial floor debate Thursday.

It would also allow students to take the online classes on top of full course loads if their school districts or charter schools permit.

Last's bill would have allowed districts to negotiate prices directly with providers, but it also would have allowed students to take online classes only from their own districts/charters or a provider of the district/charter's choosing — a move critics said would mean less choice for students.

The new version of SB178 also would keep the Electronic High School separate from the official online program until 2013-14, which means until then students could still take classes there freely on top of their traditional ones as they do now.

The bill now moves to the House.




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