Local control plays big role in virtual schools bill’s success

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Later this week, Gov. Robert Bentley is expected to sign Senate Bill 72 into law, making Alabama the 30th state with a comprehensive policy for full-time online education schools for high school students.

Sen. Dick Brewbaker, who sponsored the legislation, has called the bill “groundbreaking,” highlighting its potential to expand choices for quality education for Alabama students.

For some advocates, the agreement on virtual schools came as a surprise after an extended debate over school choice in the state.

Duncan Kirkwood, Alabama state director for the Black Alliance for Educational Options, said keeping virtual schools as part of the public school system is one important reason for its popularity among legislators. 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.

However, local school boards are able to design or contract virtual school options that meet the needs of its students.

The potential, Kirkwood said, is that students who excel in certain subjects will be able to attend college-level classes online and no longer be limited by what their local high school can provide.

“This is transformational. In just a few years, we’ve gone Alabama being a place where your zip code determines the education you get to one where parents can choose the right options for their kids – without the burden of private school funding.”

During Thursday’s House vote, 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. Students sometimes don’t ‘plug in’ to traditional education,” Baker said. “I love the local option so school boards can determine the best delivery method for their students.”

If Bentley signs the virtual schools proposal, high school students statewide would be able to attend online classes as early as the 2016-2017 school year.

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