Missouri K-12 students will soon have expanded options for virtual coursework.
The state currently offers the Missouri Virtual Instruction Program, but legislation signed into law June 1 expands it into the Missouri Course Access and Virtual School Program.
The new legislation allows any public or public charter school student who’s been enrolled in school full-time for at least a semester to select from a catalog and enroll in virtual courses approved and paid for by local school districts or charter schools and monitored by the state’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
Students who couldn’t attend for at least one semester because of a documented medical or psychological condition are exempt from that requirement.
Home-schooled students will be able to pay their own way to access the Virtual School Program, said Chris Neale, who is the assistant commissioner for DESE’s Office of Quality Schools.
Neale said about 600 of the approximately 900,000 students in Missouri currently use the virtual instruction program.
He said it’s difficult to predict how the new legislation will affect the numbers, but added increased enrollment will probably come.
“There won’t be a huge change immediately, but then as people become accustomed to a new system and it is worked out, there will initially be some period of growth, but then it will level off,” he said, based on past experiences.
Full-time enrollment for students is considered to be six credits for a regular term. Neale said students who take the six credits virtually will be counted as full-time in schools’ average daily attendance — off which state funding is based.
However, Neale added, schools won’t be able to inflate their attendance numbers because schools can’t count students who take more than six credits as more than the full-time equivalent of other students.
The attendance of students who take less than six credits of virtual coursework will be counted as a fraction, although, according to the law, students who are also candidates for A+ tuition reimbursement and complete a course shall be counted for no less than 95 percent attendance.
Assuming enough coursework is available, Neale said it’s possible a student who takes one semester of high school, for example, could finish the rest of high school virtually — though that’s also ultimately up to the policies of local schools, “based around what’s in the best interest of the student” in terms of his or her academic and career plans.
The law grandfathers in courses already being provided, as long as the courses meet state curriculum requirements.
The law takes effect Aug. 28, but the program rollout will continue as the school year progresses. Neale said DESE will have to provide a link for coursework providers to be able to submit new courses and take care of some Americans with Disabilities Act accessibility details.
“We might be ready for certain new features and upgrades for the enrollment of second semester,” Neale said. “I’m not convinced anything will be very different before that.”