BESE approves “Course Choice”

Louisiana’s top school board has approved a funding source for a controversial new initiative aimed at offering hard-to-get classes for public school students through nontraditional means.

The program, which is called Course Choice, will be funded with federal dollars from and oil and gas settlement that have aided schools since 1986.

The new option was part of a series of sweeping public school changes pushed by Gov. Bobby Jindal in 2012.

It was originally supposed to be funded with dollars from the Minimum Foundation Program.

But the state Supreme Court struck down that source earlier this year, and state Superintendent of Education John White then announced that Course Choice would be scaled back to a pilot project for the 2013-14 school year.

Under the plan approved on Wednesday by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, Course Choice will be funded with $2 million from what insiders call the 8g fund, which stems from the amendment to federal law that paved the way for the assistance.

The money will allow up to 4,500 enrollments, according to figures provided by the state Department of Education.

Approved on-line firms, colleges and others will offer classes aimed at students who are trying to catch up with their peers, earn college credit or gain access to certain courses, especially for students in rural areas.

White and other backers of Course Choice say it offers parents and students vital options, especially for those attending troubled public schools.

Students enrolled in schools rated C, D or F can take the classes without charge. So can students in schools rated A or B, if the school district does not offer the class sought.

Scott Richard, executive director of the Louisiana School Boards Association, criticized the funding plan when a BESE committee reviewed the proposal late Tuesday night.

Richard said the aid for Course Choice will redirect funds formerly used for at-risk students in pre-kindergarten classes and science, technology and math initiatives.

“We just question the wisdom of re-routing the dollars of proven initiatives to basically a program that is unproven and that districts already have the ability to access,” he said Thursday.

The classes only apply to high school students and registration is underway.

While some of the state-approved providers have sparked controversy, White said targeting the aid strictly for high school students has reduced any controversy.