That's One Small Step for Digital Learning and Quality Options for Colorado Students

Has Colorado taken another step toward providing students with greater choice and opportunity through access to digital learning options? If so, how big and effective a step has been taken? Let’s look at a piece of education legislation that was overshadowed by the likes of the “Future School Finance Act” and others, Senate Bill 139.

A recent online column by Reilly Pharo of the Colorado Children’s Campaign and the Donnell-Kay Foundation’s Matt Samelson shares an overview of SB 139’s key provisions:

Now, what exactly does this legislation do? * Track academic performance of students in online and blended learning courses? Check. Provide educator access to professional development for online and blended courses? Check. Create local level supports at schools and districts for these courses? Check. Promote mentoring to help students be more successful in an online environment? Check. Increasing market incentives for high quality providers in the state? Check.

Pharo and Samelson — the latter of whom worked with my Education Policy Center friends on the development of a digital learning policy road map for Colorado — note that SB 139 creates “a selection committee charged with awarding contracts to statewide online education providers.” The legislation directs the state to contract with a local BOCES (Board of Cooperative Education Services) to oversee the sharing of supplemental online and blended learning resources, especially with rural schools, at no additional cost to state taxpayers.

I have to wonder aloud: How would this new system work in conjunction with the proposed Digital BOCES idea? Could the Falcon 49 brainchild possibly be that BOCES the legislation talks about? Maybe there’s a complementary role? A little more thought and digging needs to be done.

Currently, the Mountain BOCES contracts with Colorado Online Learning to provide supplemental courses at fixed rates. But as Pharo and Samelson explain, the change opens the door to more providers without an artificial price cap:

The new law improves the state’s ability to provide supplemental online offerings by removing an arbitrary cost per-course cap of $200 that resulted in a distorted market, limiting the expansion of high quality supplemental courses.

As usual, more work remains to be done. But at first blush, SB 139 sure looks like a small positive step forward for choice, innovation, and quality in Colorado’s digital learning environment. I sure needed something to make me smile today, and this news will do.