The Education Committee reported out last week a draft bill to further the expansion of online learning in Massachusetts public schools. This has long been a priority of mine and I cosponsored an earlier draft bill.
I’m delighted by the leadership role that the present House Chair, Rep. Alice Peisch, and her predecessor, Rep. Marty Walz, have taken in shaping this new draft. The bill carefully addresses many of the concerns that have been raised about expansion of online learning. The question that I hope we’ll get more input on over the weeks and months to come is whether the framework is workable for groups seeking to provide online learning alternatives.
Click here for the full text of the new draft, or view the committee summary pasted below.
An Act Establishing Commonwealth Virtual Schools
Education Committee Redraft
- Establishes Commonwealth Virtual Schools, which shall operate under a contract with the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and are governed by a board of trustees. School districts, education collaboratives, public institutions of higher education, non-profits, teachers or parents may apply to open a Commonwealth Virtual School. For-profit entities are prohibited from applying for a school.
- Requires the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to issue a request for proposals to establish a Commonwealth Virtual School, and enumerates what must be included in the RFP. The Board makes the final determination on selecting proposals, and may award a contract to operate a school for between 3 and 5 years.
- Establishes a cap of 10 Commonwealth Virtual Schools that may operate at any one time, to be phased in over the course of several years. For the first 2 years, only school districts and collaboratives may apply to open a Commonwealth Virtual School.
- Also caps the total number of students attending Commonwealth Virtual Schools at 2% of the state’s public school population, or approximately 19,000 students.
- Requires the Board to give a preference to proposals that focus on certain students, including students who have dropped out, students with special medical needs requiring a home or hospital setting, or gifted and talented students.
- Requires students in Commonwealth Virtual Schools to meet the same performance standards and testing requirements as students in other public schools.
- Teachers in Commonwealth Virtual Schools must either be licensed to teach in Massachusetts or another state, have passed the state teacher test, or be a faculty member at an accredited institution of higher education.
- Tuition and Funding
- Requires the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, in consultation with the Operational Services Division, to set the tuition rate. However, tuition can be no more than 75% of the state’s average foundation budget per pupil. The Department is authorized to retain up to $75 per student enrolled in a Commonwealth Virtual School for the administration of the virtual school program.
- Requires Commonwealth Virtual Schools to annually report information about their net assets, and authorizes the Board to set limits for the amount of excess funds a school may retain before having to return it to sending districts.
- Requires Commonwealth Virtual Schools to conduct independent audits of their accounts.
- Reporting Requirements
- Each school must submit an annual report with information about courses, students, and other activities.
- The Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education must report annually on the implementation and fiscal impact of the virtual school program.
- Requires the Commissioner to provide information to school districts about online courses that are aligned with state academic standards.
- Authorizes the Board to promulgate rules and regulations.
- Establishes a 15 member online learning advisory council to advise the Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education on virtual education.
- Massachusetts Virtual Academy (MAVA) at Greenfield
- The Achievement Gap act of 2010 established Innovation Schools, which are districts schools with increased autonomy and flexibility. A provision in the Innovation Schools statute allows an Innovation School to be established as a public virtual school. There is currently one Virtual Innovation School in Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Virtual Academy in Greenfield. This bill strikes the language in the Innovation School statute which allows for a Virtual Innovation School, and requires MAVA to either apply to open as a Commonwealth Virtual School or close within one school year.