30 Laws in 30 Days: Making advanced courses more available to rural, urban schools

By Shelby Mullis
TheStatehouseFile.com

Editor’s note: This is the 28th in a series of stories about new laws that are taking effect, most of them on July 1.

INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana students will soon have more access to advanced courses not offered at their school, but at a price.

Under House Enrolled Act 1007, the Indiana Department of Education has one year to establish a plan for how it will choose course providers and create a course library for students to enroll in classes that may not be offered by their public school, such as dual credit classes from state colleges or Advanced Placement courses, commonly referred to as AP courses.

The goal is to improve the availability of these classes for Hoosier students who have limited access.

The bill’s author, Rep. Tony Cook, R-Cicero, wants to provide new outlets for students at schools with limited resources that prevent them from hiring or licensing teachers to instruct more supplemental classes.

“There are opportunities for areas, especially in isolated rural or urban-poor areas, for enriching their curriculum a little more with these opportunities,” Cook said.

Through the legislation, students can take courses through a variety of methods, including online or in the classroom depending on the provider. The providers could be local colleges, industrial certification programs or other schools in the area.

But to fund these additional courses and providers, school districts will take a cut in state tuition support. The course providers, selected by the DOE, would receive a portion of the school’s state funding.

The school will pay tuition for each of its students enrolled in the course if the class fits within the student’s normal course load. However, if a student chooses to enroll in addition to his or her regular classes, the student would have to pay the tuition.

The money is paid in two installments: an initial enrollment fee and conclusion fee when a student finishes the course.

While Cook hopes this legislation will make more courses accessible for students living in “curriculum deserts,” or areas with a lack of more enriching courses, some Indiana education leaders are worried schools will lose large cuts of state funding that typically support other operations.

Keith Gambill, vice president of the Indiana State Teacher’s Association, said ISTA opposes the legislation and fears that these funding cuts will diminish a school’s ability to fund other areas of education.

“Public schools have been providing access to students for courses without the legislation,” Gambill said. “They have been working to meet the needs of students. When the funding pulls out of the school in that way, it diminishes the school from ever being able to cultivate [programs] within the school.”

While Scott Turney, executive director of the Indiana Small and Rural Schools Association said that the association supports the measure, they do not think schools should be required to use their own tuition support to fund these providers. Instead, Turney suggests opening the funding up to different resources, such as school and local foundations or grants.

“Tuition support must cover the cost of operating all current classes that a school needs and desires to provide for all, students,” Turney said. “Enough funds must be kept available to operate classes in the school’s schedule.”

But the cost of these courses will be less than what it would cost a school to hire new staff to teach these courses on their own, said DOE Chief Information Officer John Keller.

“If there are 10 students at a school who want to take various courses, the school is not going to be able to adjust their staffing in response to that,” he said. “I can certainly see where some schools would have some concerns, but there may be some opportunities for schools to use this as a sharing vehicle.”

For example, if one school is qualified in one course, and another school is qualified in a different course, the schools can partner together.

“There’s room for creativity within the development of the library,” Keller said.

The DOE will begin orchestrating a plan this summer. Keller said the vetting process is set to begin June 2018, but he hopes to accelerate the program so courses are made available to students for the 2018-2019 academic year.

Courses that display a higher need or are more popular than others will receive priority. Eligible students must be pursuing any type of diploma available in Indiana or an industry certification approved by the State Board of Education.

Shelby Mullis is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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