Those who read my blog last week know that Utah’s Senate Bill 65, also known as the Statewide Online Education Program, got off on the wrong foot.

But last night Utah seized its chance to leapfrog the rest of the nation and transform its education system to a more student-centric one when the House passed the bill with 48 votes (out of 75), which followed the Senate’s passing of the bill on its second try late last week.

For this passage to occur, four changes were made to the bill, all of which seem reasonable.

First, in the original version of the bill, online providers would have received 60 percent of funding up front for each student, with the remaining 40 percent to come only if the student successfully completed the course. The revisions now mean that providers will receive 50 percent up front and 50 percent upon successful completion. While some will worry that this raises the bar too high for providers—particularly more innovative start-ups—I actually think this will be a good thing for students, as it will further align the incentives for providers to focus on student outcomes. In the longer run, if Utah creates or aligns behind high-quality embedded and end-of-course assessments that allow for multiple pathways to show mastery; students, parents, and teachers believe in them; and the state ties the notion of successful completion to them, the incentives around true student learning could be even better.

Second, in the bill’s revision, the state lowered the amount it would pay online providers—and thus lowered the amount that it would take from districts. The original amount was already low, so this should be cause for concern, but it should also incentivize providers to focus on productivity. The good thing here is that the House committed to study this issue further and potentially make adjustments based on the course—so elective courses might receive less money, whereas important core courses would receive more.

Third, the revisions eliminated a path for the state to allow more online options for students, by not permitting the state to certify additional providers outside of the Utah Electronic High School as well as district and chartered providers. Although not ideal, materially this will be insignificant, as districts and chartered schools can and already do contract with an array of providers to bring these options into Utah.

Finally, the revision exempted state-run Utah Electronic High School from having to compete with the array of online providers for dollars for the first year. This is more than reasonable, as the program has never had to compete in the past, so it hasn’t been built to do so. This will give the school a year to pivot and adjust as needed to what will be a new reality that must compete on student outcomes.

Ultimately this bill still aligns to the 10 Elements of High Quality Digital Learning outlined in Digital Learning Now, and as such, represents a bold move away from the monolithic, factory model schools of our past and a big step forward toward a more student-centric future that allows students to have personalized options for their learning based in their distinct needs.


  • Michael B. Horn
    Michael B. Horn

    Michael B. Horn is Co-Founder, Distinguished Fellow, and Chairman at the Christensen Institute.