LINCOLN, Nebraska -- A virtual high school proposed by Gov. Dave Heineman would add another place for Nebraska high school students to earn their high school diplomas, especially those in rural areas.
The online school, which Heineman recommended in his State of the State speech Jan.13, would supplement courses that may not be available to students, from basic Spanish to advanced placement classes.
Heineman said the $8.5 million initiative would be funded from lottery funds. He has proposed using $5.5 million for the development of the virtual high school in the upcoming fiscal year and $3 million the following year to support it, said Ashley Cradduck, deputy communications director for Heineman's office, in an e-mail to the Nebraska News Service.
"In rural Nebraska, it can be difficult to hire foreign language, math and science teachers," Heineman said in announcing the plan. "A virtual high school would allow rural schools and rural communities the opportunity to survive."
While the virtual high school is still in its early stages, education officials will develop the concepts and details for the school, Cradduck said.
"The governor has described the project in a general sense as building a more robust online platform using the independent study program as a foundation," she said.
The independent high school, more formally known as the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Independent Study High School, is a Nebraska public school that currently serves students through correspondence and online courses. It was established in 1929.
But the virtual school would be available exclusively to students from Nebraska, unlike the independent high school, which serves students from more than 100 countries across the globe. That school serves about 150 students from Nebraska, said Laura Wiese, coordinator for extended education and outreach for the independent school.
Another key difference between the two schools could be whether the virtual high school functions as a semester-based program. Currently, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Independent Study High School requires students to complete a course within one year. The details for the virtual school, however, have not yet been established, said Marty Mahler, executive director for the Nebraska P-16 Initiative, a key supporter in Heineman's proposed virtual high school.
Barbara Shousha, director of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Independent Study High School, said Heineman's proposal is very exciting for education in this state.
"It speaks to a real commitment to Nebraska students," she said.
Mahler said that all Nebraska students should have the same opportunities, no matter if they live in a rural or urban area.
The virtual high school could make that possible, he said.
"Just because they often don't have the number of students or the breadth of faculty to offer those courses, we still want those students to have options," Mahler said.
Students from large school districts would also benefit, Heineman said.
"Online courses allow students to complete course work on their timetable in the evenings or on weekends," he said. "A virtual high school is a way to expand learning beyond the traditional school day and school year."
The virtual high school would also be designed to be accessible to anyone in the state who has access to a computer, Mahler.
"There's a lot of nuts and bolts stuff that needs to happen in order to make this a reality," he said.