Despite Opposition, Online Schools Get Green Light in Iowa

Iowa’s Attorney General Tom Miller has declared that online schools are legal in the state. Critics of the schools will be disappointed by his formal finding as they had hoped he would find them illegal under ‘Dillon’s Rule,’ which states that school districts in Iowa cannot do anything not expressly stated in law.

Although taking off in other states such as Louisiana who recently doubled the enrollment cap of its online schools, some of Iowa’s legislators don’t wish to join in the virtual education revolution.

“I don’t believe Iowans ever intended to have all their schooling online,” said Sen. Tom Courtney, D-Burlington, who had asked Miller to review the legality of the Web-based schools run by private, for-profit companies. “I believe we need to legislate to correct that.”

Miller specifically states that legislation from 1987 allows the use of telecommunications as an instructional tool, and that online courses are permitted as long as telecommunications is not the sole tool used by the students and that the class teacher is properly licensed.

Rep. Greg Forristall, R-Macedonia, said he planned to push a bill that would cap the number of Iowa students allowed to attend online schools at 900. He also favors a provision that would prevent more than 1 percent of any district’s student body from enrolling in a virtual academy.

This is not the first time that the issue of online schools in Iowa has raised tempers. Earlier this month State Representative Mary Mascher, who has admitted a bias against 100% online schooling, walked out of a House Committee hearing on online schools when she felt disrespected by Connections Academy CEO Barbara Dreyer. In response to a direct question about the issue, Dreyer had ‘disrespectfully’ suggested that the former teacher could ‘see for herself’ that teachers could still form a connection with a student online if she attended one of the schools.

Miller does suggest that the state should monitor the emergence of further online programs and that there should be greater oversight of these online schools.