Louisiana is about to become what officials call the first state to launch a huge expansion of how courses are offered to public school students, with private firms, colleges and even former teachers expected to enter a revamped education system.
State education leaders are touting the expansion as primarily another option for students in C, D and F schools, with the new course providers helping students to catch up with their peers and graduate on time, or to take classes not offered in their schools.
In addition, the new courses will help students who want to graduate early, earn college credit while in high school or take career and technical classes with specific jobs in mind.
“It is about more choice for all students,” said Dave Lefkowith, one of the officials working on the “course choice program” being set up by the state Department of Education.
The agency plans to send requests for proposals from course providers on July 16.
Those plans then face reviews from officials of the department, an independent panel of experts and the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, which sets policies for about 700,000 public school students in the state.
BESE is scheduled to approve the new course providers on Dec. 5.
An online course catalog will be published on Jan. 1, and registration will begin on March 7 for the 2013-14 school year.
Ken Bradford, assistant superintendent, said it is too soon to predict how many new course options will be offered.
All the proposed classes are due to the state by Oct. 12.
The course expansion stems from one of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s key public school overhaul bills, which won legislative approval in April.
But the bill, known as Act 2, also includes a major expansion of Louisiana’s voucher program, which got most of the attention and debate when the measure went through the Legislature.
What got less attention is the fact that the bill also paves the way for colleges, online firms, private companies, business groups and others to offer courses, if they win state approval.
Steve Monaghan, president of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, said expansion questions are symptomatic of a bill that went through the Legislature with too little scrutiny.
Monaghan, whose group has challenged the law in court, said private providers are likely to be lined up to take a “large swab of funds” from Louisiana’s already hard-pressed public school treasury.
“There is a tremendous amount of concern about it,” Monaghan said.
Under the plan, classes taken by students in troubled public schools will be paid for with state tax dollars.
Others taken by students at A and B schools who have no access to classes they are pursuing could also qualify for state aid.
Classes can be online or in person.
State Superintendent of Education John White, who is Jindal’s chief public schools lieutenant, said in a prepared statement Tuesday that the expansion of course providers will give students “customized options” that fit their school needs and interests.
White said the first priority is additional providers that would offer core courses — like math and science — for students in C, D and F schools.
Course providers are supposed to spell out how students who take the classes will be assessed, districts where they will be offered and how the classes are aligned with diploma requirements.
Providers would be authorized for three years.
If student performance fails to meet state standards the provider would be placed on probation.
The department is holding webinars on Wednesday and Thursday for school guidance counselors, teachers, administrators, parents and others.
State officials will visit BESE districts with information sessions on July 23-25.