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La. Unveils List of Potential 'Course Choice' Providers

Louisiana has taken another step towards creating a new marketplace for publicly funded courses that students may choose from, as the state education agency announced yesterday that 72 applicants have made it past the initial hurdle in a multistage evaluation process.

One noteworthy development is that several school districts are looking for a piece of the action, including the Bossier, Caddo, Livingston, and St. James school systems. If ultimately approved, these district could provide classes to students from other districts (and get a slice of their per-pupil aid along the way). When I first wrote about the policy last month, no districts had yet applied. In addition, the state-run residential Louisiana School for Math, Science, and the Arts, also is on there.

Beyond those school districts, the list includes many national online learning companies, such as Sylvan Learning and Apex Learning, as well as some local entities, including the Pelican chapter of the nonprofit Associated Builders and Contractors and the state-run Louisiana Educational Television Authority.

Louisiana's Course Choice program, which is expected to be up and running next school year, will essentially allow students to shop around for courses to be paid for with public dollars. An eligible student (see my story for the fine print) picks one or more classes from a state-approved list, and a portion of their home district's per-pupil aid pays the tab.

Several outside experts have told me the program is unlike anything they've seen, even as it blends ideas from charter and virtual schooling, as well as vouchers.

The offerings are expected to include not only online classes, but also face-to-face offerings, and blending learning that combines the two. The state promises a diverse mix of college-preparatory and career-training courses.

"Course Choice is making education more rigorous and more relevant to life after high school," said Louisiana state Superintendent John White in a press release. "Students in the 21st century should not be limited to the education offered within their school buildings. Course Choice provides courses based on the needs of Louisiana's economy and workforce."

Applicants still have a ways to go to be on the final state-approved list. The second phase of evaluations includes a background check, a "more rigorous review" of each applicants' course offerings, and interviews by a state department panel of experts.

A third phase of review will feature a panel of independent experts. The state board of education, however, will make final decisions on applicants that have made it through all three rounds.

Southern University and Agricultural and Mechanical College in Baton Rouge, which I mentioned in my earlier story, apparently is among those that did not make the cut.

Here's a quick sampling of other providers that will advance to Phase 2:

• Bard Early Learning College in New Orleans;
• Baton Rouge Area Electrical Joint Apprenticeship Training;
• Dillard University;
• Florida Virtual School;
• K-12 Inc.;
Danse Noir Studio;
• PLATO Learning; and
• University of New Orleans.

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