Friday, February 24, 2012

Online education silver bullets: Big fights today over funding Electronic High School, but really the repeal of SB65 virtual vouchers via HB 147

I try to know everything about everything, but I just don't know a lot about the Electronic High School of Utah. This post will probably be less informative than some, but I'm hoping to get some clarification from comments and/or if I can listen this afternoon to the House Education Committee hearing on two related bills. I did learn as I wrote the post that Rep. Brad Last's HB 147 contains a final section REPEALING Howard Stephenson's SB 65 Statewide Online Education program that falsely divided and diverted education funding into online vouchers. That explanation comes after I explain some background on last year's bill and others this year.

The Electronic High School currently gets funded a lump sum and is available in a non-competitive role as a public school. Students can completely enroll there, take just a few classes, or make up classes they failed. Last year's SB 65, Howard Stephenson's "virtual voucher" bill, authorized payments of a large percentage of student funding to any public online school per class that a student enrolled in. During the committee hearing on the bill, Stephenson said he supported Electronic High School at first, but that it was time for it to transition over to competitive funding and stand on its own. I am not 100% sure what actually happened in the wording of the substituted and amended bill. Lines 79-89 address Electronic High School, and lines 182-190 show that it is eligible one year later than other entities to participate somehow...and that's all my tired brain can do right now. I'm not sure when or if Electronic High School loses its dedicated funding stream.

SB 65 diverted big chunks of per student funding to any online provider (even private as Stephenson envisioned, but he was eventually forced to amend the bill to only address public online classes) under the false paradigm that per student funding statistics are true marginal costs, when student funding is actually pooled and shared hyper-efficiently. (See my recent post on Tuition Tax Credits for a long explanation of the funding pie.) Schools cannot maintain current programs and function when too much money is diverted away to other programs.

This year, Stephenson is running SB 178, which amends his SB 65 from last year. I'm really unsure that I have my head around what this bill and the next two I will discuss actually do. There are moving pieces and multiple ripple effects as funding and enrollment of charter and traditional schools are modified. SB 178 appears to decrease the amount of funding flowing from districts and charter schools to online programs per class. The bill also deals with how much FTE a student can count for (The district subdivides its pooled funding per student further, dictating how many teachers a school can hire, which is just an arbitrary method of distributing funds evenly. This unit used on the district level is called FTE.), but I don't get how it is different than the original SB 65. I doubt it's really too hard on online providers or great for districts, but I could be wrong here. Another sign is that Parents for Choice in Education bill tracker says they "initiated" this bill. (A revealing list. who's carrying PCE's water?) SB 178 passed a Senate Education committee hearing and is on the Senate floor.

There are two additional bills dealing with Electronic High School scheduled to be debated in the House Education Committee today at 4:00 pm. (Agenda)

The first is Rep. Sandstrom's HB 336. I definitely don't understand the ramifications of this one. Its summary states:
This bill:
12 . specifies the purpose of the Electronic High School;
13 . provides that the Electronic High School may only offer courses required for high
14 school graduation or that fulfill core curriculum course requirements;
15 . removes the Electronic High School as an online course provider in the Statewide
16 Online Education Program; and
17 . makes technical amendments.

I don't know what removing Electronic High School from the SB 65 program really does to it. I'm not sure what classes are being offered currently that do not fulfill graduation requirements. I also don't know what the intent language in lines 55-64 does as it seems to just repeat the lines that were crossed out, Lines 79-91. But PCE opposes this bill with this complaint:
Allows EHS to continue to operate with line item funding, no accountability for student outcomes, and no accountability for funding with a reported 30% - 50% completion rate
So it appears that this keeps EHS open for all students to attend as it currently functions.

Brad Last's HB 147 has some identical provisions to HB 336, and also seems to share other provisions with SB 178. But PCE is spitting mad about this one and is email blasting its followers with all caps warnings that defeating this bill is its #1 priority. (Emphasis is my representation of theirs). The summary reads:
This bill:
12 . specifies the purpose of the Electronic High School;
13 . provides that the Electronic High School may only offer courses required for high
14 school graduation or that fulfill core curriculum course requirements;
15 . requires a school district or charter school to offer online courses at the grades 9
16 through 12 level and online concurrent enrollment courses to students enrolled in
17 the school district or charter school in grades 11 and 12;
18 . allows a school district or charter school to develop and teach online courses, and to
19 ensure a wide selection of high quality online courses are offered;
20 . requires a school district or charter school to contract with an entity for online
21 course content or online course instruction;
22 . allows a school district or charter school to form a consortium with other school
23 districts or charter schools for the purpose of contracting with an entity for online
24 course content or online course instruction;
25 . allows a student the option to enroll in online courses for a certain number of course
26 credits each year;
27 . provides that online course credit hours are included in daily membership, except a

28 student may not count as more than one FTE, unless the student intends to complete high
29 school graduation requirements and exit high school early;
30 . provides that a student enrolled in an online course may not take more than a full
31 course load unless:
32 . the student intends to complete high school graduation requirements and exit
33 high school early; or
34 . if allowed by local school board or charter school governing board policy;
35 . provides for the administration of statewide assessments to students enrolled in
36 online courses;
37 . repeals provisions relating to the Statewide Online Education Program; and
38 . makes technical amendments.
Which seems very similar to these lines from SB 178:
prescribes procedures for the completion of a course credit acknowledgement;
26 . prohibits a student who enrolls in an online course from being counted in
27 membership for a released-time class, if counting the student in membership for a

28 released-time class would result in the student being counted as more than one FTE;
29 . permits a student taking an online course to take more than a full course load if
30 allowed under local school board or charter school governing board policy;

Both prohibit a student from counting as more than one FTE and allow more than a full course-load to be taken with permission, but the technicalities of the other differences escape me right now. SB 178 has the language about not being able to take released time, which is the current vogue false accusation of PCE and certain charter lobbyists right now, that schools are getting overfunded when students are at seminary or ATC. I don't know if that is the whole issue, or if SB 178 totally cuts dedicated funding to EHS. There's a bunch of stuff about districts workign together to make quality online programs, and I can't see why that would be especially controversial.

2 minute later update - PCE has once again helped me better understand the bill. Their complaint reads:
Repeals the Statewide Online Education Program, strips the student's ability to choose the courses that best meet their academic needs, no longer allows funding to follow the student
Just part of their Email Alert reads:
PCE IS TARGETING HOUSE BILL 147 AS OUR #1 BILL TO DEFEAT this session! This bill would REPEAL our biggest school choice victory last year, the Statewide Online Education Program signed into law last year...PLEASE CALL AND EMAIL EVERY COMMITTEE MEMBER AND ASK THEM TO VOTE NO ON HB147. TELL THEM NOT TO SUPPORT A BILL THAT TAKES AWAY SCHOOL CHOICE!


We can't defeat this without your help!

Call and email all Representatives on the committee.
Please forward this email to friends and family.

I see now that Line 37 of the HB 147 summary is a doozy: "repeals provisions relating to the Statewide Online Education Program;..." I thought it was something just related to EHS when I first saw that, but lines 237-262 of the bill appear to repeal most of the language of SB 65.

I don't approve of the method of sticking this on the end of a bill on a very loosely related topic, despite SB 65 damaging EHS, but I fully support this concept. Wow Rep. Last! I REALLY want to hear his committee presentation now to hear his motivations. Does he get the false paradigm based on bad funding numbers that I keep explaining? Or that pitting public schools against each other damages rather than strengthens student achievement and sense of community? I guess we'll find out.

This is a great idea, therefore PCE will stack the committee hearing like always with their highly motivated folks (How many times will they quote the national school choice guy who said Utah is #1 in online ed?), and a LOT of peer legislator pressure will be brought to bear. I predict HB 147 as written fails because legislative leadership is committed to silver bullet technology both as excuse for large class sizes and as their camel's nose in the voucher tent, though I could see some sort of substitute/compromise being worked out where the EHS stays funded as in both HB 147 and HB 336.

HB 336 will be heard right before HB 147, and I don't think both of them can be law simultaneously. They would also seem to conflict with Stephenson's SB 178. If HB 147 passes by some miracle, there will be definite conflict between the bills/agendas.

Sorry for the sort of stream-of-consciousness research here. I have learned more just as I typed this up. I urge you to contact your legislators in support of HB 147, explaining the false assumptions behind SB 65 and the practical problems they are causing. Legislators of the House Education Committee, be aware of the manufactured wave of opposition coming your way. Support public education by opposing efforts to fracture its funding based on purposeful misrepresentation of how education funding works.


Barbara said...

I was pretty surprised to see HB 147 make it out of committee with a positive recommendation. Who know's what will happen to it on the House floor or the Senate but it was nice to get a little victory over PCE. They can't be happy and I'm sure they are working to kill this if not on the House floor then in the Senate.

Anonymous said...

You are pretty spot on with this post. Nice work! Brad Last has been studying this issue closely since last session and is working hard to undo the harm SB65 is slated to cause.

UtahTeacher said...

Thank you! Anon, if you know Rep. Last, let him know that as an educator who follows this, I am impressed and very happy.

I think HB 147 is an EXCELLENT compromise that I would not have thought of. I missed Rep. Last's presentation, but heard him answer some questions. From that and the article, I understand the bill much better now. The consortium piece and SB 65 repeal aren't unrelated pieces like I mistakenly thought. What a well-thought out alternative.

I loved the comparison to HMO's to control costs. Online Ed. is only growing in importance, but unfettered *choice* on the taxpayer's dime is not the highest virtue. Allowing the district consortiums allows the funding to work in pools for broad, efficient course offerings, while preventing huge, arbitary chunks of money to flow to online providers. Even Stephenson's SB 178 admits the cost was 2x too high in most cases.

Barbara, I was very surprised at a 9-2 vote as well. Rep. Last was very well prepared, but I can't help thinking that the charter schools complaining the arbitrary class costs were unfair (tacit admission their contention about deserving more local district $ is false as well) really brought some votes that would not normally go public ed.'s way.

UtahTeacher said...

And I will paste in PCE's message to the troops about HB 147 and the House Ed. Committee:

"Unfortunately, the House Education Committee passed House Bill 147 out of committee. Your efforts definitely did not go unnoticed, though! Even the bill sponsor called us to complain about the number of calls he was receiving from those opposing his bill, so THANK YOU for taking action! However, the House Education committee membership does not have a majority of school choice supporters, and we did not prevail...

We encourage you to contact the committee members who voted YES along with the bill sponsor, Brad Last, to share your disappointment and views with them - always remember to be respectful.

This does not mean the fight to kill this bill is over by a long shot! Next stop is the entire membership of the House of Representatives. We will keep you updated as the bill moves through the process and send out another Action Alert before it goes to the House floor for a vote. We will definitely need your help again at that time."

Looks like Rep. Last's email box will be hit hard. The price of a battle worth fighting I guess. Well done Rep. Last.