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Online learning funding system cited as key barrier as lawmakers respond


Cabinet Report - August 17, 2012:

On the same day a blue ribbon panel on education technology cited California’s strict school funding mechanism as a key barrier, lawmakers moved legislation aimed at adding flexibility to encourage online learning.

Nearly six months ago, state schools chief Tom Torlakson convened a task force of educators and business representatives to provide recommendations for bringing the promise of new technology into the state’s public school system. Their report, released Thursday, includes a call for California to ensure that every student have individual access to Internet devices as part of the school day.

Meanwhile, the state Senate’s Appropriations committee also Thursday gave the green light to legislation that would go a long way in meshing the state’s existing funding system based on average daily attendance with the less formal world of digital learning.

AB 644 by Assemblyman Bob Blumenfield, D-Van Nuys, authorizes school districts to claim revenue limit attendance for high school students enrolled in online courses, where the teacher is also specifically participating in real-time.

Passage out of the fiscal committee Thursday means the bill’s next likely stop is the Senate floor, and, if approved, the governor’s desk.

Torlakson’s Education Technology Task Force released a list of recommendations it believes will provide priority for digital learning improvements.

“With its ubiquity and its adaptability, computing technology is changing the face of education —and rightfully so,” said Torlakson in a statement “It can be a powerful tool for preparing kids for the economy they will become a part of once they leave school.”

The 48-member task force was led by retired Wall Street investment trader Frank Baxter and former L.A. Unified board member David Tokofsky.

Among the recommendations:

• Promote expanded use of online instructional materials and student access to technology for standards-based curricula

• Every student has access to at least one Internet device for learning anytime and anywhere, often called 1:1, which the Task Force calls “possibly the biggest challenge facing public education” in this context

• Form public-private partnerships for the funding and use of technology in the classroom

• Develop guidance documents for students and their schools on safety and appropriate use

AB 644 represents a second run at fixing the online funding issue, as similar legislation from Blumenfield failed to win support last summer.

The question, which was called out in the task force report, is: how best can the state pay for instruction when students are not occupying classroom seats?

Currently, the state supports online learning but requires extensive paperwork from districts – so much so that it has inhibited its use.

AB 644 would require the State Superintendent of Public Instruction to develop rules for implementing the law, including how school districts include pupil attendance in online courses in the calculation of ADA and how to ensure a pupil meets the minimum instructional time under existing law.

To read the Education Technology Task Force report click here:

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