Senate Bill 289, which was sponsored by Rogers and signed into law by Gov. Nathan Deal on May 1, also will require that students entering high school in the fall of 2014 or later take at least one online class in order to graduate, and will require end-of-course tests to be given online by 2015.
“This is one of the best bills I’ve helped pass in a long time,” said Rogers, a Woodstock Republican who’s been in office for 10 years. “When you introduce technology into education, there is no limit as to what we can achieve.”
Right now, high school students can enroll in online courses such as math, language arts, science, social studies — even physical education — through the Georgia Virtual School, or another accredited service. The classes are usually completed at home or a public library.
Students log on to read assignments, complete activities and case studies, and sometimes watch recorded lectures or instruction. Students and teachers communicate primarily by email, and in general, online time is about equal to seat time in a regular classroom for that particular course.
Classes taken through Georgia Virtual School will cost $250 per class, per semester, as of July 1, and local districts will now have to pay that fee for students who are also enrolled in their physical schools.
Cherokee County school officials are still assessing the costs of the new program, according to Barbara Jacoby, spokesperson for the school district.
“Appropriate staff currently are looking into the impact of this legislation,” she said.
Cobb leaders, such as Superintendent Dr. Michael Hinojosa, are already a bit worried, given budget shortfalls.
“We have to figure out how much it’s going to cost us. That’s the primary complaint from most superintendents I’ve talked to,” Hinojosa said. “I’m not philosophically against it, we just have to figure out how to do it.”
Sen. Rogers, though, insists this is not another unfunded mandate. Districts previously were not allotted per-pupil money from the state for online courses, but the law changes that, he and others said.
“This is huge savings for the local school districts,” Rogers said. “Right now if a student takes an online class, the (district) does not get the (full-time equivalent) for that student for that class.”
Bob Swiggum, of the state education department, said he specifically asked for that component of the bill.
“Previously, it was really a detriment to take a Georgia Virtual School course because (the district) lost that funding,” Swiggum said. Districts, he said, “saw it as cumbersome and not much of a financial benefit.”
The new law requires the state to include GVS courses when allotting per-pupil spending to districts, he said.
Swiggum said the shift to learning via technology is “a huge enabler.”
“Online learning is really just an extension of that social media and that computing platform that is already being used by the vast majority of the kids out there,” he said. “All it does is allow them to interact with the education system in a different way. We’re just trying to offer something that is more closer in line with how kids interact.”