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Online task force named, faces tight schedule

A bipartisan group of legislators on Thursday launched a fast-track task force to study possible improvements in online education and report back by March 21.

Despite the tight timeline, the lawmakers said they believe there still will be time to craft online legislation if they feel it’s needed. The 2014 session has to adjourn no later than May 7.

Online education has been a controversial subject since 2006, when a state audit found low academic performance by online students and weak state oversight.

In subsequent years a variety of studies, Department of Education reports, an in-depth investigation by EdNews Colorado (now Chalkbeat Colorado) and low performance ratings for some online schools have continued to raise questions about online education. Key issues include low student performance, student turnover and cost to the state.

In the meantime, online enrollment has mushroomed from just over 6,000 students when the 2006 audit was done to more than 17,000 now. There’s also a large variety of programs — full-time and part-time, district and charter, single district and multi-district and some programs run by schools and some by for-profit operators.

But while various lawmakers have considered legislation to more strongly regulate online schools in recent years, no lawmaker has pulled the trigger, partly because of political and lobbying pressure against additional rules.

Rep. Dave Young, D-Greeley, said the seven-member task force will “look at all aspects on online learning … to help the four of us craft legislation.” Working with Young are Rep. Jim Wilson, R-Salida; Sen. Andy Kerr, D-Littleton, and Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango. Young and Kerr both have experience as online instructors.

“We need to make sure these are all high quality programs,” said Wilson, saying the task force has been asked to “find the good, bad and the ugly.”

“We plan to craft a bill if we find it necessary,” Kerr said. He said the timeline is tight but workable.

The task force is being coordinated by the Donnell-Kay Foundation, which also supervised a 2007 study by what was called the Trujillo Commission. That four-member panel took only six weeks to do its work, Kerr noted.

Members of the task force include:

  • Elizabeth Davis, principal of Colorado Calvert Academy, a K-8 multi-district online school overseen by the state Charter School Institute
  • Ben DeGrow, education policy analyst for the Independence Institute
  • Dale McCall, executive director of the Colorado BOCES Association
  • Kim McClelland, an administrator in the Falcon schools and head of the new Colorado Digital BOCES, which was started by the district
  • Dan Morris, executive director of eNetColorado, a consortium that provides online resources and help for schools
  • Judith Stokes, assistant superintendent of the Branson school district, which runs a multi-district online program
  • Rick Tanski, principal of the Academy Online High School, a K-12 multi-district online program run by that district

Kerr said the panel members were chosen because “they know what online education is.”

Disclosure: The Donnell-Kay Foundation is a funder of Chalkbeat Colorado.

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