10/28/2011 02:29 pm ET | Updated Dec 28, 2011

Michigan Cyber Schools Receive Senate Approval

Michigan might be getting more cyber schools.

Under legislation narrowly approved 20-18 by the Republican-led state Senate, Michigan's current cap of two cyber charter schools with approximately 1,400 students would be lifted. Six Republicans joined Democrats in opposition of the bill.

Republican state Sen. Phil Pavlov, also chair of the Senate Education Committee, told the Associated Press that the move is to encourage advancement toward technology in society and education, and to give families more say in their children's education.

"We open it up, we let parents and students decide," Pavlov told AP.

The senator also told the Kalamazoo Gazette earlier this week that the move would push the state's education system forward, as it's currently "behind the curve."

The bill would also allow the cyber programs to receive the same per-student public funding as traditional public schools. It was one of a package of nine bills that largely support the expansion of Michigan's charter schools. The Senate passed six of the nine pieces Thursday, giving parents more options for their children's education and expanding opportunities for private school students to take public school, for public schools to offer programs in private schools and for public and private high school students to take courses at community colleges.

But a study released last week by the National Education Policy Center found "serious flaws with full-time virtual schools." The study's co-author Gene Glass said in a statement that "we have to make sure that cyber schools don't become just a cheap way of providing second-rate service to disadvantaged students."

The study notes that in cyber schooling, there's little financial and academic accountability, as well as little research on their effectiveness. And with few rules, not much supervision, large enrollment and struggling students, "an unacceptably large number… won't make it through to the end," Glass told the Kalamazoo Gazette.

The bills have seen widespread support and criticism. Those who oppose the proposals have said that there isn't enough information to substantiate arguments that the plans would improve the state's education system, and would only diffuse focus from really honing in on fundamental problems in the system.

"We're supportive of expanding choice options for parents but strongly believe there's a good way to do that," Dan Varner, executive director of activist coalition Excellent Schools Detroit told the Detroit Free Press. "More bad choices don't help anyone."

This move in the Michigan senate comes amid a national movement toward online learning. Last month, Indiana Schools Superintendent Tony Bennett proposed a plan to require the state's high schoolers to take at least one online course before graduating.

If Bennett's proposal is accepted, Indiana would join a host of states that have recently announced moving toward mandatory online learning. Florida's recently passed Digital Learning Now law requires that high school students take at least one online course before acquiring a diploma, among other educational measures. Idaho's Board of Education preliminarily voted in favor last month of a policy that would require high school students to earn at least two online credits to earn a diploma.