Reimagining Education

State BOE approves new virtual education rules

This week the Missouri Board of Education approved a new rule change that will have long term impacts on the state’s virtual education program called MOCAP.

Thankfully the board listened to a number of concerns raised by the Children’s Education Alliance of Missouri and other advocates for parental choice and fixed several troubling issues that the originally proposed rule would have created.

Unfortunately, the board ignored a number of other suggestions CEAM made, underlining the need for continued efforts to fix the MOCAP law legislatively to ensure that parents have the final say in how and where their children learn.

The final passed rule makes it harder for new virtual education providers to offer their services to Missouri families, further distances families from the final say in whether or not to enroll in a virtual education program, and gives districts more control over a form of education they have proven they do not fully understand during the pandemic.

If the Missouri legislature does not address the new requirements set forth in this new rule and give families the power to enroll directly with a virtual provider and not a local district, it is very likely that Missouri’s MOCAP program will see fewer and fewer options of providers in future years as a result of the onerous requirements being instituted by DESE.

What got fixed

Requirements for enrollment

One of the most important fixes to the new rule was one of the smallest. The originally approved rule would have required students to attend a Missouri school for at least a semester before being eligible to enroll in the MOCAP program.

CEAM recommended, and the state BOE agreed, removing the word “Missouri” from that requirement so that students who moved to the state and were currently enrolled in a virtual program could continue without having to attend a brick-and-mortar school.

This will make the program much more accessible for military families and make it easier for Missouri to attract businesses that want to provide their employees a variety of educational options.

Alignment with districts

Originally, DESE staff had wanted to require virtual education programs to align with pacing charts and school calendars for each district in the state. This would have made it virtually impossible for any virtual education provider to operate in Missouri because they would have to design a different version of each course for each of Missouri’s over 500 school districts.

In comments on the proposed rule, CEAM pointed out that many families enroll in full-time virtual education programs specifically because the timing and content of instruction in their brick-and-mortar school are not meeting their child’s educational needs and that integrating pacing charts from 554 different LEAs would be counterproductive because the pacing in a physical classroom is many times very different from what works in a virtual environment.

The board agreed and removed the language which will allow virtual providers to continue to design high quality courses that align with effective learning, not the will of an individual district.

Removal of onerous reporting requirements

The final approved rule removed a requirement for virtual education providers to give “LEAs access to standard and user‐customizable reports for both individual and multiple students,” a requirement that would have forced providers to generate different customized reports for every school in Missouri and would have created unknown amounts of unnecessary bureaucracy and paperwork.

Unfortunately, DESE was able to retain a requirement that teachers from virtual education providers must be available to answer questions about their teaching raised by individual schools or districts.

This sets up a dangerous system where the provider’s educators must answer to three different masters – the provider who employs them, the families they serve, and now an LEA who may not have a full understanding of how the virtual program works and is organized. This adds an unnecessary layer of complexity to communication and additional bureaucracy which takes teachers away from their core mission of focusing on the students. The rule changes would require MOCAP providers to give DESE and districts direct access to their teachers, a requirement that is not currently in place for other programs involving out-of-district education providers like colleges providing dual enrollment programs.

Student teacher ratios

Similarly, the state BOE provided a mixed response to concerns raised by CEAM over new requirements for student-teacher ratios in the newly approved rule. They removed an arbitrary cap on student-teacher ratios for synchronous virtual education course and instead aligned that cap with what is recommended in the Missouri School Improvement Program.

Unfortunately, they instituted the same cap on asynchronous courses which, by definition, do not require immediate interaction with instructors and should not be limited to the same requirements of in-person learning environments.

Retroactive denial of credit

The original proposed rule had given districts the power to retroactively deny a student credit for a MOCAP course if they did not feel it met the requirements of state rules.

Thankfully, the state BOE recognized CEAMs concerns about how unfair this could be to students who had been given approval to enroll in a course and worked hard to earn the credit and changed the wording to ensure that credits for MOCAP approved courses would be recognized.

All the stuff that did not get fixed

Sadly, the new rule represents a dangerous attempt by DESE and districts across the state to destroy Missouri’s virtual education program before it even has a chance to establish itself by implementing unnecessary requirements. In addition to the issues raised above, these new requirements include:

  • Forcing Kindergarten students to attend a brick-and-mortar school for a semester before being eligible to enroll in MOCAP
  • A provision giving DESE virtually unlimited control to create requirements for a virtual course provided by a district or charter school to be approved to be included in the MOCAP program, which is a direct conflict with the MOCAP law that states these courses “shall be automatically approved” to be included in MOCAP
  • A variety of provisions giving IEP/504 teams final control over enrollment in a MOCAP program which gives schools more power than parents when deciding what is in the best educational interests of their child

How to make MOCAP better

The past two years have proven that many districts do not like or approve of virtual education, resulting in multiple lawsuits and continual rule-making by DESE which seems to only make the problem worse.

The answer these problems and complex rules and regulations is simple.

Give Missouri families the power to directly enroll their students in a full-time virtual education program through MOCAP instead of forcing them to go through their local district.

This would remove the students from their local district, and by doing so remove any need for the district to meddle in a student’s education. It would also remove districts from being in the uncomfortable position of paying for a program they fundamentally disagree with and remove any concerns about how virtual student performance may impact their accreditation classification.

You can tell your state leaders to fix this issue this year using the form below.

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