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Lobbying the Legislature for Virtual Education: Part 2 of 3

Lobbying the Legislature for Virtual Education: Part 2 of 3

Photo: Daniel Robison

Previously: Debate Heating Up Over Virtual Learning – Part 1 of 3

By the time sophomore Griffin Sinn graduates from Bloomington’s New Tech High School, he’ll have a full semester worth of college courses already under his belt. So in 7th period he’s learning about software from…software.

“Cause it shows colleges that you’re ready that you’re ready for taking on college. I think colleges will like to see that. I think I could be accepted to more colleges because of this,” he said.

His high school requires he do this, but it’s certainly the exception. But what if the state soon mandates all high schools include some kind of virtual curriculum, like in Michigan, Florida and other states?

“We are embarking on a Jetson’s society while trying to use a Flintstone’s style of education,” said Tony Bennett, state superintendent.

He says Indiana is behind the curve on virtual education.

“I think Indiana is slow to move. Far too many of our leaders across the state are still steeped in an agrarian mentality when it comes to the delivery of education,” he said.

But Bennett says discussions about the future of virtual learning are taking place at the state’s highest levels. Still, what happens during next year’s short legislative session is anybody’s guess.

Bruce Colston is trying to have a hand in what happens.

“[To] try to influence legislation and the [Department of Education] in positive ways to try to promote quality virtual education,” he said.

As head of the Indiana Virtual Learning Consortium, a group of five different virtual learning outfits in the state, Colston is lobbying the legislature, wading into the political arena for the first time.

“It is a real cutthroat political arena where there are so many interest groups competing. I mean, it can be anything from an individual with an ax to grind who happens to be a representative, or knows a representative. Lobby groups that are well-funded, working the legislation,” Colston said.

To make the ILVC’s case to those in the General Assembly, the group paid Indiana University’s Center for Evaluation and Education Policy, or CEEP, to conduct a survey of the state’s principals and superintendents and write a report about it. CEEP’s Terry Spradlin was in charge of the survey.

“They were pretty explicit about their goals and expectations with having a survey conducted. And those are stated in the report,” he said.

And almost exactly a year before the survey was released, CEEP released its own policy brief that essentially argued for the same conclusions produced by the IVLC’s poll. And Colston and Spradlin hope legislators notice their groups coming to similar conclusions. Spradlin says the IVLC is doing what it should at this juncture.

“It seems wise and timely they’d have a survey conducted. Especially given the context of the policy discussions in Indianapolis by our legislature. The discussion we’re having today will be quite different in three or four years,” Spradlin said.

Colston says it may be best the General Assembly hasn’t yet tackled virtual learning in any serious way.

“A lot of the legislators when I was presenting to them, I mean I could look in their eyes and they had very little idea whatsoever what virtual education was. How we operated. But a lot of people are voting on these things that know very little or know what the issues are,” he said.

“And so we’re still left with no real guidance on how virtual education can function in Indiana,” Spradlin said.

On Friday, we’ll hear how lobbying the legislature in the name of expanding educational opportunities …has a business side. And how the interests of for-profit virtual outfits may cloud the educational side of the issue.

Daniel Robison

Daniel started as WFIU's Assistant News Director in July 2008. He graduated with a B.A. in history in 2007 and earned an M.A. in journalism two years later. Daniel hosts Ask the Mayor weekly and the occasional Noon Edition. He also hosts Morning Edition on Thursdays, sleepily. Daniel's beats include everything News Director Stan Jastrzebski wants him to cover. And it feels strange to type biography of myself in the third person like this. So that's that.

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