La. online program chooses to register

Despite legal questions the state is taking applications for online and other courses that will be offered by private firms and colleges, state Superintendent of Education John White said Monday.

The new program, which is called course choice, was approved last year by the state Legislature.

White said it offers students a chance to take classes often not available at their schools, including advanced placement courses for possible college credit; career and technical education and test preparation classes.

“This gives parents the power to tailor the education that they want for their child as their child pursues a life beyond high school in the 21st century workforce,” he told reporters.

19th Judicial District Court Judge Tim Kelley ruled on Nov. 30 that the law illegally diverts money for public schools to online firms and others.

The state is appealing Kelley’s ruling to the Louisiana Supreme Court, and a hearing is set for March 19.

Asked if the state has a plan in case the law is struck down, White said it is best to wait for details of the decision, which he said are unlikely to be identical to what Kelley ruled.

The classes are free to students who attend schools rated C, D and F by the state.

Those who attend schools rated A or B do not pay any tuition if the course is not offered at their site.

The program is set to begin during the 2013-14 school year.

Among the 42 providers approved by the state are LSU, Southern University and Acadian Ambulance.

Students can register at http://www.LouisianaCourseChoice.net.

White declined to estimate how many students will sign up.

He said about 6,000 families take part in the Louisiana Virtual School, which provides online classes that are difficult for some students to access.

Nearly 5,000 students who formerly attended troubled public schools now go to private and parochial schools using state-financed vouchers, which are also under legal fire.

Louisiana has about 712,000 public school students.

Gov. Bobby Jindal pushed the course choice program last year, and backers call it another option for students trapped in failing schools.

Teacher union leaders and others have branded the change another diversion of sorely-needed state dollars away from public schools.

The average cost of a one credit course is $700, according to the state Department of Education.

Providers are supposed to be paid half the costs initially and the other half if the student finishes the course on time, and slightly less if he does not.