Registration opens for Mo. virtual school

Monday, May 7, 2007

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) -- Registration opened Monday for students who want to enroll in a state-funded online school this fall.

The state's virtual school program is expected to cover a few thousand students, with some taking a full load of classes and others only one or two courses.

State education officials are accepting applications over the Internet until May 29, and then will choose students using a lottery based on student populations around the state.

Classes will be available for kindergarten through fifth grade students and for high school. Middle-school courses are expected to be added in the second year.

In a virtual school, students take classes over the Internet, at whatever time works best for them, but have regular contact with a state-certified teacher, generally online or by phone.

"This is going to help kids. That's what this is all about," Curt Fuchs, the state's virtual education director, said Monday. "This is not for every student. This is for a certain segment of our population."

Supporters envision the online school appealing to a broad array of students, from those who are home-schooled to some who have been ill, have discipline problems or desire courses that their local school district doesn't offer.

The budget for the program, which awaits final legislative approval, calls for $5.2 million in the fiscal year that starts July 1.

That's double the governor's original budget recommendation, but education officials say that even with more money, it's too late to add middle-school grades. That's especially frustrating to parents of middle-school students who championed creating the program.

The department expects funding for 14,000 semester-long courses. If every student who enrolls is full-time, that would amount to about 1,150 students. But with students taking ony one or two courses, up to 5,000 students might be using the virtual school, Fuchs said. Applications ask which courses students plan to take, and students who get picked through the lottery will get space in the courses they want, up to six per semester.

Interest is high, and officials expect more applications than they can accommodate. In the first 45 minutes of registration Monday, 125 students applied, Fuchs said.

Families also can pay tuition to take part in the program. Fuchs said tuition should be about $360 per semester course. Families should know whether they earned a spot in the virtual school within a week or two of registration closing, he said. The virtual school should be up and running around Aug. 3.

The state has hired two contractors to run the program -- Connections Academy, of Baltimore, will handle the elementary courses and Northwest Missouri State University, in Maryville, will manage the high school curriculum.

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