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Senate of Pennsylvania
Session of 2019 - 2020 Regular Session


Posted: July 22, 2020 01:46 PM
From: Senator Ryan P. Aument
To: All Senate members
Subject: Online Course Initiative
The COVID-19 pandemic has made us rethink the way we do many things, especially education.  This Spring, we watched as our schools scrambled to transition to a remote learning format within just a few days.  The efforts of our teachers and administrators to provide continued education during this crisis has been laudable but as we look to the future, there are ways we can make their effort easier and more effective.

Moving to online education was not an easy transition for every school and it highlighted some of the obstacles our schools face as they contemplate the way they will teach students for the upcoming school year.  One way to make online learning easier for our schools and students would be to provide a database of online learning resources.

To that end, I will be introducing legislation will increase online learning resources for our school entities by requiring the PA Department of Education (PDE) to establish a central repository of online courses accessible to all public schools, nonpublic schools, home education programs, and the general public.

The program created by this legislation will be known as the "Supplemental Online Course Initiative."

Over the past decade, dramatic advancements in technology have given rise to increasingly innovative and personalized models of instruction.  The demand for customized, digital learning opportunities has only intensified during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Now more than ever, Pennsylvania’s K-12 education system needs to be more innovative and forward-thinking in delivering instruction to students not just during this pandemic, but also so our students can be competitive in college and careers in the 21st Century.

The online course clearinghouse created by this legislation will provide an additional tool for our students, educators, and schools by leveraging existing technology to provide students with the opportunity to pursue coursework which is best-suited to their individual needs, and which might not otherwise be available.

The bill specifically establishes a two-phase implementation schedule for the clearinghouse, which will first offer free courses related to content tested by the Keystone Exams. In the second phase, the clearinghouse will also offer other approved online courses are aligned with PA education standards from providers, subject to purchase through contract.

To ensure high-quality options for students, the bill requires PDE to construct the clearinghouse so that it provides information to users about each course and offers the opportunity for school entities to provide feedback and a rating for such courses.    

Furthermore, the bill affords public schools the flexibility to make use of these online learning opportunities, by allowing, not requiring, schools to utilize courses made available through a school entity, the clearinghouse, or any other source. When a school entity decides to offer students the opportunity to participate in online courses, the bill requires the school entity to establish its own policies and procedures governing eligibility and participation and make parents and students aware of the opportunity.

The bill also provides for an application development and approval process, parameters for purchasing courses, penalties, and the issuance of a report regarding the program.    

This legislation is a companion to House Bill 2596, introduced by Representative Ortitay.  I hope that you will join me providing this helpful resource for schools as they increasingly rely on online instruction during the pandemic and beyond.

Introduced as SB1273