Hey Parents: Here’s how to have school choice within your school

School often don't make it easy to find out about options


Many Minnesota parents know about Postsecondary Enrollment Options (PSEO), which allows their high school students to obtain college credit in the classroom. Laudably, Minnesota has some pretty good rules on PSEO.

Minnesota schools have a duty to inform parents and students of PSEO options for one. And while some states next-door say students can’t take classes if the local district offers those classes, or make students pay for their own books, Minnesota is much more supportive of students obtaining PSEO credit.

That doesn’t mean the system is perfect. St. Paul’s information for parents is not highly user-friendly, for example. But it works, and people at least know about it.

Supplemental Online Education

But there’s another awesome thing about Minnesota education that too few parents know about: Supplemental Online Learning (SOL).

Granted by Minnesota statute, Minnesota K-12 students, especially those of high school age, have literally hundreds of free options to take classes online. And the whole thing is à la carte. 

In other words, the program is “supplemental” because your child doesn’t have to drop out of high school entirely. If your kid wants to take Mandarin, Japanese, or French, but your school doesn’t offer these languages, go ahead and take the class online—and pick from potentially multiple providers of these languages.  

If your child’s math teacher is checked out, senile, or otherwise dissatisfactory, take the math course online. Kids can even take gym class online, or health class online.

How it works

Online classes are often real-time, and can be offered at the beginning or the end of the day. Students can stay at home and take the class, or go to school. If they do the class at school, the school is required by law to provide them with a space to take the class. A full list of available options can be found here.

It should be noted that Minnesota’s SOL is much more permissive than other states. Some states offer only one state-run online education platform. Other states limit the number of SOL classes a student can take. In Minnesota, there are no such restrictions.

All you have to do is go to your school and tell them that you are interested in the SOL program. The school is then required by law to tell you about your options (though there are examples of school staff being less than honest, so keep pressing and know your rights). Notice here how this program differs from PSEO. In PSEO, schools are affirmatively required to inform. For supplemental online education, schools only have to tell you if you ask. But if you ask, they have to tell you.

Once the thing gets set up, which requires paperwork between you and the school, and some logistical planning around class scheduling, you’re good to go. If the school gives you trouble, this writer would love to know. Again, that’s against the law.

Why you’ve never heard of this 

Every Minnesota student has a state identification number. The way school funding works, per each student, roughly 35% is funded by the locality, and 65% is funded by the state. Of course, the state also receives federal money, and this works out so at the end of the day about 10% of the students’ cost is paid for by the feds.

When you sign up for SOL, and one-third of your child’s classes are through SOL, the school loses one-third of that state funding, because the funding follows the student via the student’s identification number. Quite obviously, schools don’t want that. 

SOL is a funny acronym, because here it applies to stodgy public schools who are desperately trying to snuff out competition. Quite obviously, schools aren’t advertising SOL to students and parents because of this.

But the possibilities are endless, especially if more awareness is raised. SOL allows nothing short of school choice within the school. Kids and parents become the customer, and money follows the students. That could bring market forces to local school districts, leading to a better product for all students, whether they exercise this school choice or not.

Willis Krumholz

Willis L. Krumholz is a fellow at Defense Priorities. He holds a JD and MBA degree from the University of St. Thomas, and works in the financial services industry. The views expressed are those of the author only. You can follow Willis on Twitter @WillKrumholz.