The fate of a Senate bill regarding virtual school programming is uncertain as it heads to the floor next week.
Senate Bill 738, introduced by Sen. Stephen Newman, R-Forest, would regulate online schools programs throughout Virginia.
Dr. Patricia Wright, the state superintendent of public instruction for the Virginia Department of Education, said she worked with Gov. Robert McDonnell’s policy team to create the bill and that it was one of three bills that McDonnell asked the legislature to consider.
Wright said the bill would put some rules in place that would both promote online programs as well as make sure there would be some quality control with courses and the instruction being provided.
“I think it’s a very good bill and it actually helps solve some of the questions that have been raised over the years about online instruction,” Wright said.
Newman said that the bill would provide public schools with new tools to help children with special needs including children with autism, children who were advanced students, and children with social difficulties.
Newman said that there was still a long way to go and that if it took more versions to pass, then that was fine.
“We have made tremendous progress,” he said, “I think that most will see this as an opportunity to invest more.”
Sen. Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth, who is on the Education and Health Committee that will vote on the bill next week, said that she would most oppose it unless it was considerably revised. Lucas said the bill was not an advantage to students when they can afford to have small class sizes.
“It’s a proven fact that students do better with individual attention,” she said.
Lucas said that she believed responses to the bill would be mixed and wouldn’t necessarily fall on party lines.
Lan Neugent, assistant superintendent for technology and career education for the Virginia Department of Education, said virtual programming could save schools money if the providers could work out arrangements with them.
Neugent also said that if schools did not open in the summer and offered online courses like some Virginia Beach schools have done, there would be a possibility of saving.
“So if they do that they’re not going to have to worry about opening up schools and all the expense that goes with that,” he said.
Neugent said that Virginia schools already have a program called Virtual Virginia, which is primarily for high school students, and the passage of this bill would be something completely different because it would be for students in grades K-12.
“This is a bill whose time has come. I have spent the last week and a half working with school leaders trying to get the bill in a way most functional in a school setting,” Newman said.