The popularity of Louisiana's new Course Choice program, which allows students to choose virtual, face-to-face, or hybrid courses outside of their home school from a variety of providers, has far exceeded expectations, with its waitlist growing to more than 1,000 students so far, announced state superintendent John White in a conference call with media today.
"This is an indication that families are demanding more options for their kids," he said. "They want an education that's tailored to the needs and ambitions for their children and are using Course Choice as a way of getting what they need."
The program, which experts have called a unique initiative, was created as part of a package of school legislation, including a voucher program, signed into law by Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal. But when the Louisiana Supreme Court ruled that the funding mechanism for the new education initiatives was unconstitutional, the future of the Course Choice program became unclear.
Fortunately, said White in the conference call, the Louisiana Department of Education was able to dedicate about $2 million to the creation of a Course Choice pilot program, allowing the program to continue. That $2 million covered 2,000 courses (not individual students) which have since been filled, said White.
Of the 92 providers that applied to deliver courses through Course Choice, 41 were approved and are planning to provide courses through the program. About 21 of those providers are prepared to offer courses this school year (2013-14), including the Pelican chapter of the Associated Builders and Contractors, Middlebury Interactive, Princeton Review, Bard Early College, and the Caddo Career and Technical Center in Shreveport.
Students were chosen on a first-come-first-served basis, said White, and 38 percent of those placed currently attend an F-rated school, while 33 percent attend a D-rated school.
During the pilot program, only high school-level courses are available, but many middle schoolers have applied for high school courses not currently offered at their school, such as Algebra I and Spanish, said White. Spanish, biology, and Algebra I have been the most popular courses to enroll in through Course Choice, he said.
And most students are only enrolled in one course, said White. "We're not seeing multiple courses per child. And that's generally what we had envisioned"—that students would use the program to supplement the education available in their home schools rather than enrolling in courses mostly outside of their assigned school.
Currently, the department is looking to scrape together enough funds to accommodate all of the students on the waitlist, which is expected to grow, said the state superintendent. Since school will be starting in two to three weeks, the decision about whether or not more students will be able to be pulled off the waitlist should be forthcoming within a week, he said. Students in parishes in the northern part of the state have been particularly affected, said White: "So many of their students are rural and struggling with access to these classes. It's critical that we find a way to help those parishes out."
The department is currently evaluating its expenses to see if funding can be gleaned from "any item—whether it be an assessment, professional development, textbooks—that is not aligned with the new expectations and standards for what our children are expected to achieve," said White. "We're still hoping we'll be able to serve every kid."