MARIETTA — Cobb school board member David Morgan is calling on the district to consider expanding its online education program, Cobb Virtual Academy, allowing more students in and outside the district to take advantage of the resource.

Cobb Virtual Academy is a separate entity from the Georgia Virtual School, an initiative by the Georgia Department of Education to provide online learning to students in public and private schools.

Cobb’s program, established in 2002, offers high school courses during the regular school year, as well as the summer term. Students can take online courses for high school credit in addition to their regular school schedule for a fee. There is no fee when students take online courses as part of their regular school schedule.

Courses taken in addition to the regular school day and all summer term courses are tuition courses. Tuition is $275 for a 0.5 unit course and $550 for a 1.0 unit course, according to the district’s website.

Morgan said the online program has clearly grown in enrollment in its 17-year existence, and suggested that it may be time for the district to consider providing it more funding and other resources.

“Clearly there is a market for expansion,” he said, adding that offering courses to students outside the Cobb County School District, like an online graduate school experience, could be a revenue generator. “I just deeply believe that the ability for people to access quality education regardless (of) geography is paramount.”

District spokesperson Nan Kiel declined to provide the program’s annual budget information.

Cobb’s program, the second oldest in the state, has gone from serving “a couple hundred” students in 2002 to about 3,400 in the 2018-19 school year, according to John Floresta, the district’s chief strategy and accountability officer. Floresta said the program offers 40 courses, including math, science, social studies, English, health and physical education.

The academy, he said, provides a “quality virtual product” and allows students who are not physically in the classroom to continue or supplement their education in a teacher-led, virtual classroom setting.

He said while the program’s enrollment has grown dramatically, doubling in its last seven years, expansion in staff has been relatively minimal.

“The idea of expansion, which has happened really just naturally because we’ve been offering a quality product over the course of the years, is certainly something that’s been brought to our attention as staff over the years. There is an opportunity,” he said during discussion at the school board’s recent meeting.

Floresta said the most commonly requested course additions include world languages; Career, Technical and Agricultural Education courses; and middle school courses, which the Georgia Virtual School offers.

But, Floresta added, there’s a difference between an opportunity to expand and a need to expand. Virtual academy students are being served well with the resources that exist, he said, and expansion has not been a top priority.

Conversations on how and when to expand the Cobb Virtual Academy are already taking place, according to Superintendent Chris Ragsdale.

Ragsdale said the district is taking steps to expand online course offerings outside the Cobb County School District. He said one of the challenges is determining how to fund that expansion.

“I don’t think we’re ready to say, ‘Here’s how much money we need to pull the trigger right now,’” Ragsdale said.

The superintendent said district staff are treating a possible expansion like a technology startup, and they’re trying to channel its expansion through its new Cobb Teaching & Learning System.

CTLS, as the district refers to the online resource, is a portal where parents, teachers and other district stakeholders can access information relevant to them.

A student version of the system is being developed, and the hope is to use that system to expand online course offerings, Ragsdale said.

“We’re moving toward exactly what you’re saying,” he said, addressing Morgan. Once that’s built, Ragsdale said, “There’s nothing preventing a student from Alaska being a CTLS student.”

The superintendent declined to provide a possible date for expansion of the Cobb Virtual Academy.

Follow Thomas Hartwell on Twitter at twitter.com/MDJThomas.

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