House approves virtual high schools for Alabama students

Alabama Statehouse

Students will have an option to attend a virtual high school by the 2016-2017 school year under a measure approved by House vote on Thursday.

In a 82-20 vote, the House approved Senate Bill 72 requiring each local school board to establish a virtual school policy for grades 9-12.

Rep. Ed Henry, who sponsored the legislation, said that the bill would open the door for children who aren’t enrolled in public school for academic reasons to reconnect to the public school system.

Each local school board would design and oversee the online curriculum for its students, including ensuring that students at the virtual high school participate in all testing and accountability requirements set by the school board.

Rep. Alan Baker applauded the bill’s reliance on local judgment and management of options for students.

“I think that technology is rapidly changing how we deliver education,” he said. “Students sometimes don’t ‘plug in’ to traditional education. I love the local option so school boards can determine the best delivery method for their students.”

A key feature of the bill is that students enrolled in the virtual school would be considered public school students, subject to the same testing and graduation requirements as their peers. Online students would also be eligible to participate in public school extracurricular and sports, a provision that raised concerns among some House members.

“If parents don’t think their kids should be in public schools, they should not be able to participate in extracurricular programs so that they can get scholarships,” Rep. Mary Moore said.

Members also raised concerns about how students enrolled in home schools would be treated under the bill and whether the program allows religious home schools to take advantage of public school funding.