March 15, 2023

PSO Files Comments in Response to Missouri Rule Impacting Access to Virtual School Programs

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Jefferson City, MO (March 15, 2023) — The National Coalition for Public School Options (PSO) today announced it has filed comments with the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) in regards to proposed amendments to the rules governing the Missouri Course Access and Virtual School Program (MOCAP).

“PSO-MO and parents from all around the state were very active in all of the phases of the passage of House Bill 1552, which created the new statutes that the proposed rule is supposed to be implementing,” PSO’s Executive Director Kristen Tyagi wrote in the organization’s submitted comments. “In that process hundreds of parents discussed these issues with their lawmakers, many coming to the Capitol to seek these critical changes.

“Unfortunately, the proposed rule is not consistent with the new law and could act to reestablish the very barriers to Missouri families that HB 1552 was specifically passed to address.”

PSO highlighted the following provisions in the proposed rule as problematic and inconsistent with the intention of HB 1552:

  • The enrollment process for full-time virtual programs is supposed to begin with the parent expressing interest and submitting an application directly to the virtual program. The proposed rules have reversed this.
  • The proposed rule purports to impose a ten-business day deadline on “all necessary enrollment decisions”. There is only a singular enrollment decision on a student’s application, and that is by the virtual program. Also, under HB 1552, the ten day deadline applies solely to the resident district providing any relevant information on an enrollment application to the virtual program.
  • The entire process in the proposed rule for Education Services Plans (ESP) and Collaborative Agreements (CA) conflicts with HB 1552 as the bill is very clear that this process only applies to special education students after an application has been accepted, and further that a CA is only relevant if the resident district will be involved in some service delivery to the student involving the use of a physical facility of the resident district. The proposed rules also involve the resident district in the drafting of every single ESP and CA. However, for the vast majority of students, the virtual program or its vendors will be providing the services, and the resident district will have no role at all in the provision of any educational services. It simply makes no sense to involve the resident district in an ESP and CA for a student unless there is some role contemplated for that district in the education and provision of services to that student. In most cases this requirement will simply become a new administrative hurdle and barrier to access. This misreading of the law to require an ESP and CA for every single enrolled student will, in addition to creating potential bottlenecks and possible barriers, will create a tremendous administrative burden serving absolutely no educational purpose.
  • The proposed rule singles out students with a disability and assigns them to a distinct application process. In doing so, the proposed rule reclaims a supposed veto power for the resident district over any full-time virtual enrollment for that subset of students. Not only is this unfair and exactly what the legislature explicitly eliminated, but singling out students with disabilities and forcing them into a distinct application process that involves more approvals – including from the resident district – when other students do not need any such approval is, at best, legally dubious.  HB 1552 does not create a separate application process for students with disabilities, as the proposed rule attempts to. This provision and potential barrier to access targeted at students with special needs must be removed.
  • To increase parental access, one of the most important changes made in HB 1552 was the elimination of the prior-public requirement to enroll in a full-time virtual program. The proposed rules, seem to imply that a student must first enroll, “in their resident district as required….” This portion of the proposed rules must be clarified so as to not directly reimpose any prior public enrollment requirement in the district of residence, when in fact HB 1552 specifically eliminated it.
  • Parents do not have real school choice if they don’t know the options available to them. HB 1552 was intended to provide parents with more objective information on their rights under MOCAP and that information is needed in a timely fashion to truly make a difference. The rules should state when DESE’s MOCAP Guidance document must be provided to school districts and also when school districts must deliver a copy with enough time in the enrollment process so parents can weigh their options. The information must also be objective, leaving the decision to parents. PSO and other third-party groups surveyed school districts for compliance under the old requirement to post virtual course and school information on the homepage of each district and very few complied. There should be a consequence for non-compliance with these critical informational responsibilities under the law since parental rights are at stake when they are not informed or are misinformed about their rights.

Read PSO’s full comments here.

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