Virtual education has become a hot topic during the 2018-2019 school year, mostly due to the Missouri Legislature’s passage of SB603, which established the Missouri Course Access and Virtual School Program or “MoCAP.” MoCAP replaces MoVIP as the state’s virtual education program, which in effect, shifts funding of virtual education courses from the state to the school district.
Under the new law, codified in § 161.670, RSMo., school districts are required to allow students to take virtual education classes at the district’s expense, as long as students are eligible to take the classes and it is in the student’s “best educational interest” for them to enroll in virtual classes.
A student is eligible to take classes within MoCAP if the student meets the following requirements:
- The student is school-age (under the age of 21);
- In grades kindergarten through 12; and
- Resides in Missouri.
A district must allow an eligible student to enroll in the MoCAP courses of the student’s choice as part of the student’s annual course load each school year or a full-time virtual school option, with the course or courses to be paid by the school district, if the following requirements are met:
- The student must be enrolled full-time in and has attended, for at least one semester immediately prior to enrolling in MoCAP, a public school (including a charter school) unless the student has a documented medical or physical diagnosis or condition that prevented the student from attending school the previous semester; and
- Prior to enrolling in any MoCAP course, the student has received approval from his or her school district or charter school.
If an eligible student’s request to enroll in a virtual course within MoCAP is denied, the law requires that the reason for denial must be provided in writing, and the denial must be for “good cause.” “Good cause” justification to deny a student’s request to enroll in a virtual course must be a determination that enrolling the student in a virtual course “is not in the best educational interest of the student.” In the event of a denial to enroll, the student and their family then have the right to appeal any enrollment denial to the Board.
If the District wishes to deny student enrollment in virtual courses for subjects already taught by the District, the District will have to find justification for why it is not in the best interest of the student(s) to enroll in the virtual course instead of the course offered by the District. Possible reasons for denial on this basis might include that the virtual course does not have the appropriate rigor (as compared to the District’s course), or that the subject is one where regular in-person interactions are crucial to learning—for example, a science class with frequent laboratory experiments, or a foreign language class with a conversational component. Of course, with this law being so new, we cannot say with certainty whether either of these justifications would be sufficient to successfully defend a denial under the law, or what the outcome would be if the District denied a student enrollment in the virtual course on this basis and the student challenged the denial beyond an appeal to the Board.
As discussed above, the new law requires the district to develop a policy related to the process for enrolling, and denying enrollment, in MoCAP courses. Specifically, § 161.670.3(2), RSMo. requires that each school district adopt a policy that:
- Delineates the process by which a student may enroll in courses provided by the Missouri course access and virtual school program that is substantially similar to the typical process by which a district student would enroll in courses offered by the school district.
- The policy may include consultation with the school’s counselor and may include parental notification or authorization. School counselors must not be required to approve or disapprove a student’s enrollment in the Missouri course access and virtual school program.
- If the school district disapproves a student’s request to enroll in a course or courses provided by the Missouri course access and virtual school program, including full-time enrollment in courses provided by the Missouri course access and virtual school program, the reason shall be provided in writing and it shall be for good cause.
- Good cause justification to disapprove a student’s request for enrollment in a course shall be a determination that doing so is not in the best educational interest of the student.
- In cases of denial by the school district, local education agencies shall inform the student and the student’s family of their right to appeal any enrollment denial in the Missouri course access and virtual school program to the local school district board.
- During the hearing, the family shall be given an opportunity to present their reasons for their child or children to enroll in the Missouri course access and virtual school program in an official school board meeting.
- In addition, the school district shall provide its good cause justification for denial at a school board meeting or governing body meeting.
- Both the family and school administration shall also provide their reasons in writing to the members of the school board or governing body and the documents shall be entered into the official board minutes.
- The members of the board or governing body shall issue their decision in writing within thirty calendar days, and then an appeal may be made to the department of elementary and secondary education, which shall provide a final enrollment decision within seven calendar days.
If students enroll in MoCAP courses, their districts are required to pay for courses up to six credits per term. If a student wishes to enroll in more than six credits per term, the student can choose to pay for the additional courses him- or herself. If the district chooses to pay for all courses the student takes, regardless of whether he or she exceeds the six credits per-term limit, the district cannot claim state aid for more than the full-time equivalency of a regular term of student attendance for a single student, or six credits.
The District is only required to pay for classes as long as the student is actually participating in the class. In fact, the district’s payment to the vendor for any virtual education class must be paid on a pro rata monthly basis based on a student’s completion of assignments and assessments. If a student discontinues enrollment, the district may stop making monthly payments to the course vendor.
In the case of a student who is a candidate for A+ tuition reimbursement, school districts must attribute no less than 95% attendance to those students who are completing virtual courses, to ensure students continue to be eligible for A+.
If students transfer into a district from another and are currently enrolled in MoCAP or have successfully completed MoCAP courses, the new district must accept the student’s credits earned through MoCAP courses and continue to pay for any MoCAP courses the student is currently and actively enrolled in.
The law also limits the cost of the courses. Under § 162.1250.3(3), RSMo., the cost of one course must be the market cost of the course, but the district cannot pay more than 14% of the state adequacy target, as defined under 163.011, RSMo. and as calculated at the end of the most recent school year, for a full-year course, and 7% of the state adequacy target for a single-semester equivalent course. Districts can also negotiate lower prices for courses if more than one student will be attending a single course, or in the case of full-time virtual schools.
Currently, there are no vendors approved by DESE within MoCAP; however, according to guidance issued by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) at the end of July, DESE is automatically approving any current providers who meet the requirements of § 162.1250, RSMo., subject to renewal, which must take place at least every three years. Section 162.1250, RSMo. is the statute allowing districts to develop their own virtual courses according to their own curriculum, or use vendors to develop online courses or programs as long as the vendor courses developed align with the Missouri Learning Standards and are taught by Missouri certificated teachers. If the District currently utilizes a virtual program developed under § 162.1250, RSMo., then DESE will automatically consider that program a part of MoCAP, subject to MoCAP requirements.
School districts are also required to post information regarding MoCAP in parent handbooks, in registration documents, and the information must be “featured” on the homepage of the district’s website.
Finally, the statute also requires that districts monitor student progress and success, and course or full-time virtual school quality, and annually provide feedback to DESE regarding those aspects.
Both MCE and MSBA have provided form policies with regard to the updates required related to MoCAP. We would be happy to provide any necessary updates to that form language to meet your district’s needs or to answer any questions you might have regarding MoCAP.