Attorney General to Rule on Iowa Online School Plans

The legality of the online schools set to open this fall in two Iowa school districts has been examined by the state attorney general's office after lawmakers questioned the legality of Internet-based schools, which are sponsored by school districts but operated by private companies.

The state Department of Education has OK'd the Internet-only schools, which are actively marketing their classes across the state and would receive thousands of state dollars for each student they enroll, writes Jason Noble at the Desmoines Register.

Department spokeswoman Staci Hupp said:

"Part of the department's role is to adapt to the learning needs of the children in this state.

"We understand and support that online learning is the right choice for some families."

However, lawmakers suggest that online schools could pose serious problems for students and school districts.

Sen. Herman Quirmbach, the Senate Education Committee chairman, said:

"We have strong reason to believe that what the two districts are proposing is illegal.

"I also foresee this kind of situation leading to a war between rural school districts."

These online schools have to get their students from somewhere, and this requires them to "raid" students from other districts, setting off a "completely counterproductive" Quirmbach, he said.

Because of these concerns, Sen. Thomas Courtney requested that the Attorney General Tom Miller issues an opinion on whether the schools pass legal muster.

Courtney said:

"Quite frankly, I want this stopped.

"I think it's dead wrong, and I believe we're throwing away thousands and potentially millions of dollars to out-of-state companies just looking to make money."

This comes as Gov. Terry Branstad has proposed a massive education-reform package which would see greater freedom for online schools.

However, Quirmbach said that when the Senate look at the bill, all language liberalizing Internet-only education would be removed.

"It's clear that the superintendents of those districts have demonstrated that they understand the law and intend to comply with the requirements by combining online with traditional materials and instruction," Hupp said.

The department also will be closely monitoring the online programs in the coming year, Hupp said, and is prepared to cut back state funding if they don't deliver as promised.

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