Southern University Lab School announced Friday that it is hiring the for-profit K12 virtual school company to offer a full complement of online courses for 200 students next school year in grades kindergarten to 12.
It will be K12’s second online school that will educate students across all Louisiana.
It already has partnered with Baton Rouge charter school C.S.A.L. to create Louisiana Virtual Charter Academy, which has more than 1,200 students statewide in its first year of operation. Rival school Connections Academy started its own virtual charter school this year called Louisiana Connections Academy.
“I know there are a couple of other virtual schools out there. We think we are little unique in what we can offer,” said Ronnie Harrison, Southern Lab’s director.
University lab schools were formed to allow colleges of education a place to train student teachers and experiment with different instructional techniques.
Like other lab schools, Southern’s receives state per-pupil funding, through the Minimum Foundation Program, but levies no local taxes, so it’s free under state law to charge tuition.
HB856, by Rep. Dalton Honoré, D-Baton Rouge, advanced Thursday by the House Education Committee, would increase Southern Lab’s tuition from $2,000 to $2,500 a year next year, raising an estimated $155,000 more for the school.
Students in the online program will pay the tuition, Harrison said.
At the higher tuition level, 200 students would generate $500,000 a year. Louisiana Connections Academy and Louisiana Virtual Charter Academy are, by contrast, free for students.
Harrison said that online students will have to have access to a computer and adult supervision to participate, Harrison said.
Harrison said the connection to Southern is part of the draw, both in terms of having supervision from the university and the prospect of collecting college credits ahead of time, he said
“We’ll be able to work out a situation where there’s dual enrollment with the university,” he said.
Harrison said that Southern education professors will also conduct research comparing how the students in the traditional program perform compared to how students perform in the online program, research Southern will make available publicly.
The lab school got approval from the Louisiana Department of Education last week for the new online program and signed a one-year contract with K12 on Thursday, Harrison said.
Three to five Southern Lab teachers will add online courses to their current teaching load, but the rest of the instruction will be handled by teachers employed by K12, Harrison said.
In some areas K12 has more to offer than Southern Lab, which has just 320 students, offers currently, Harrison said.
“Their curriculum is a lit bit more advanced,” he said, noting classes in several world languages are available through K12.
While Harrison said finances are not the main reason for trying out an online school, they are part of the mix.
Southern University currently subsidizes about a third of the lab school’s $3.1 million budget — $800,000 to $1.2 million a year — but that subsidy should be offset by the combination of higher tuition, newfound eligibility for federal funding and the online program, he said.
“I am confident that if it’s as successful as I believe, we will be able to self support ourselves in the 2012-13 school year, and we will be able to run a surplus before long,” Harrison said.
Harrison said he made the decision to cap the initial year enrollment at 200 online students to keep the program manageable, but said it could grow over time.
“Eventually, if it goes in the manner we think it will, the sky’s gonna be the limit,” Harrison said.