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Montana's Rising Online Enrollments Prompt Higher Budget Request

Montana's schools superintendent is making a public case for lawmakers to boost funding for her state's digital academy, which along with similar online programs in other parts of the country, has seen its enrollment climb.

Superintendent Denise Juneau, in a series of public appearances, has argued for raising the budget for the Montana Digital Academy by about $1.5 million over the next two years, from about $2.3 million in the current biennium.

The academy, housed on the campus of the University of Montana in Missoula, provides online courses to students throughout the state. It offers courses in math, science, English, foreign languages, and other subjects, as well as Advanced Placement, and classes for credit recovery. In the 2011-12 school year, there were 97 teachers on staff, from 36 school districts, according to a recent legislative report.

Why is Juneau looking for an increase in funding? Since its inception, the academy's enrollment has exceeded projections. In the 2011-12 school year, 6,797 students were enrolled, according to the legislative report. And enrollment could climb to 11,152 students by 2014-15, if trends continue.

Across the country, state officials are likely to weigh requests for more spending on educational technology against other priorities. Depending on the state, legislators could face a tough call, given that state budget conditions are still uncertain in the gradual climb out of the "Great Recession."

States continue to see growth in online programs. There were 619,847 course enrollments—meaning one student taking a one semester-long online course—in 28 state virtual schools in 2011-12, an increase of 16 percent over the previous year, according to the 2012 "Keeping Pace with K-12 Online and Blended Learning" report, by the Evergreen Education Group.

I was directed to that report by Susan Patrick, the president of the International Association for K-12 Online Learning, an advocacy organization. Patrick noted that the growth in state-run online programs is not consistent across all states, and that state online centers' ability to handle demand and increase their reach often hinges on state appropriations.

Here's a breakdown the report offers on online course enrollments, by state:

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