Colorado is looking into the online school industry amid concerns over various problems such as extremely high drop out rates, high student to teacher ratios and low average test scores.
Despite these problems, the state's online school industry is growing significantly year-on-year. As it moves into the mainstream as a valid choice for parents and students, lawmakers are considering the case for increased oversight and regulation.
"We're looking at some increased accountability," said Democratic Sen. Pat Steadman, who plans to sponsor a bill that would change the role of an office within the Education Department called the "Unit of Online Learning." Steadman says the office needs "more teeth."
For example, Colorado's online-learning unit mandates that schools submit reports on "annual budgeting and finance practices" and "staff development plans" but doesn't require more detail.
A bill is already pending in the Senate, having cleared the House, requiring the Education Department to study school accountability measures in light of the new demands and challenges of online education.
A major fiscal concern is the problem of paying online schools for pupils who disappear early in school year. Republican Senator Keith King is concerned that students who drop out of online schools rarely make it back into the brick-and-mortar school system. This is a major concern when one considers that a 2010 report by the State Department of Education highlighted drop out rates nearing 50% in some cases. King is proposing a bill to make sure that online pupils stay in school.
Amidst all the concern however are individual success stories that indicate it is worth trying to find a solution to the myriad problems affecting online schools as they do provide a valuable service for certain students.
Michelle Nuss is one such student, a 17 year old high school freshman who fell behind while homeless.
"I love it," she said of Connections Academy, her publicly funded online-only school. "They should keep it around and make it accessible for everybody."