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Legislative Audit Commission Meeting

Minutes

September 19, 2011

Members Present:

Representative Michael Beard   Senator James Metzen
Representative Sondra Erickson   Senator Mike Parry
Representative Rick Hansen Senator Ann H. Rest
Representative Mary Liz Holberg  

Members Absent:

Representative Phyllis Kahn Senator David Hann
Representative Steve Simon    Senator Roger Reinert
  Senator Claire Robling

Other Legislators Present:

Representative Jim DavnieSenator Carla Nelson
Representative Connie Doepke   Senator Patricia Torres Ray
Representative Andrea Kieffer Senator Pam Wolf

 

Representative Michael Beard, Chair, called the Legislative Audit Commission (LAC) meeting to order at 11:33 a.m. Representative Beard said the purpose of the meeting was to release the evaluation, K-12 Online Learning.

Representative Beard introduced Jim Nobles, Legislative Auditor, to give a brief summary of the evaluation. Mr. Nobles said that the Office of the Legislative Auditor (OLA) was directed to evaluate online learning, but the evaluation had been put on hold until resources were available to conduct it. He explained that online learning is an expanding form of education and will only continue to grow. He said there have been concerns regarding the quality of some online courses and of the social effects on students enrolled in online schools. He also said the evaluation showed that the state’s approach to overseeing online learning should not be left to the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) alone. He said the evaluation suggests that MDE needs more oversight and direction from the Legislature. Mr. Nobles introduced Jo Vos, the evaluation manager for the K-12 Online Learning evaluation, to give more details. Ms. Vos said that the overall conclusions of the evaluation included that online learning expands student options and opportunities; the data raised concerns about the performance of full-time online students regarding course completion rates, high school drop-out rates, and standardized test results; and there are oversight problems at MDE. She said about 20,000 K-12 students took at least one online course in the 2010-11 school year. Some of the reasons cited by online students for taking online courses at MDE-approved schools included: 1) scheduling issues, 2) dissatisfaction with local schools, and 3) courses were only available online. The evaluation found the following oversight problems at MDE: 1) Applications for new online schools were not processed in a timely manner; 2) the reapproval process for online schools was not focused on performance; and 3) insufficient staffing.

Representative Beard called the representatives from the Minnesota Department of Education to come forward to address the commission. The representatives included Jessie Montano, Deputy Commissioner; Sally Wherry, Director, Student Support Services; and Lisa Needham, Student Support Services. Ms. Montano said MDE agrees there is a shortage of staff at the department, that several divisions had faced cutbacks in staffing. However, she said they do not agree with the recommendations to have mandatory time frames for processing new applications for online schools, for more development of online learning consortia, or to reduce MDE’s review and approval authority over online schools that only enroll students part time. Senator Rest expressed her concern that the department mentioned in their response letter that OLA had not accepted many of their suggested edits in a letter dated August 9th. Representative Holberg requested a copy of the August 9th letter to the OLA so the commission could understand MDE’s concerns about OLA not using their suggested edits in the final report. Senator Torres Ray requested that MDE do an in-depth review prior to meeting with the education committees of the recommendation regarding the development of the online learning consortia to decide if it is a good policy on its own, not based on if the department has enough resources to do it. Ms. Montano said she would provide a copy of the letter and would do the in-depth review. She also said she was looking forward to continuing the discussion on the evaluation recommendations.

Representative Beard said there would be another meeting in October to hear the release of an evaluation on the accountability for legacy funds. With no further business, the meeting was adjourned at 12:49 p.m.

_______________________________________
Representative Michael Beard, Chair

_______________________________________
Shelly Watterud, Recording Secretary

 

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