September 15 was National Online Learning Day, and while this newsletter will be coming out later than that day, the issues National Online Learning Day recognize are important, and even more so as more and more students are learning online.
Over the last several years, we have not only passed several bills to give more students online learning options, but also bills to help expand broadband to rural areas, making online learning possible for rural families. In 2018, we passed Senate File 475 and Senate File 2131. SF 475, the ‘Education Omnibus’ bill, made a number of changes to the state code addressing education. One of these changes was getting rid of limitations on online schools, including enrollment caps, giving schools more power to offer online education to students and allowing school districts to develop their own online courses. SF 2131 expanded the Iowa Learning Online program to allow students receiving private instruction to participate, giving all Iowa students more options and giving parents the opportunity to increase their child’s academic success.
In 2019, the Senate passed Senate File 394, which allows school districts and accredited nonpublic schools to use Iowa Learning Online for subjects that are required to be offered to students, but cannot find a licensed teacher to fill the job opening or not enough students are registered for the course. It also allows schools to work together to develop an online curriculum for students across different schools. Lastly, this year, the Senate passed Senate File 2310, which provided additional flexibility to the Iowa Department of Education and the Area Education Agencies to develop a new statewide, online-learning platform to fill the gap in the state’s current online learning offerings amid the pandemic.
Online learning isn’t always a viable option for everyone, especially families living in rural areas of the state. Last year, the Senate passed a $5 million increase for rural broadband expansion to expand and improve coverage to rural parts of the state. This year we made a number of policy changes to create more flexibility in the Empower Rural Iowa program and encourage more private investment in rural broadband expansion. Both bills are important to help get internet access to rural areas of our state and give more opportunities to all students, regardless of their zip code.