Learner-centered education requires broad access to high-quality coursework. However, many states struggle to ensure all students have access to the courses they need to succeed. A course access policy can help states address gaps by offering access to courses. But to ensure all students can benefit fully from a course access program, states should consider incorporating a Course Access Opportunity Incentive into their funding formula. This incentive would cover a portion of course fees as well as related district costs and encourage student participation in the program.
ExcelinEd’s recent analysis of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC) reveals that millions of students in the United States are underprepared for long-term success in college and career due to a lack of access to diverse, rigorous courses. But a course access policy can effectively address gaps in access to courses and expand opportunities for students.
Course access is a state-level policy that provides students with expanded course offerings across learning environments from diverse, accountable providers—both public and private. Students can select from a broad range of courses in a variety of relevant content areas and delivery formats (online, face-to-face or blended). States have created a marketplace of course access providers who can offer critical courses to all students statewide and help fill costly or hard-to-staff courses. States review the providers to ensure quality control, negotiate the price to make course fees reasonable, and report on student and provider outcomes.
Course access programs can supplement district and school course offerings to dramatically increase the learning and future earning opportunities available to students. However, implementing and maintaining a robust course access program with high student engagement can be challenging.
Districts may lose funds to the cost of the course fee (which may be diverted through the district or from the state). Courses are typically supplemental and largely do not change the amount of time students spend in school. Districts may be responsible for providing the space, equipment and even staff time necessary for students to complete these courses.
These financial disincentives for districts can create a major barrier for student enrollment in courses access programs–manifesting in fewer students gaining access to the full array of courses. The Course Access Opportunity Incentive can remove these financial burdens from districts so they can provide and promote the best possible opportunities to their students.
With a Course Access Opportunity Incentive, states incorporate in their funding formulas an additional funding amount to give districts for each course a student takes through the course access program. This additional funding can cover a portion of both the fees to providers and other district costs for participation and encourage student participation. As part of the funding formula, this incentive will not become a target for cuts, and it can grow as more students participate.
To create a Course Access Opportunity Incentive, the state can provide an additional amount for each course a student takes through course access. In establishing this additional amount, there are two major options: 1) a funding “weight” or 2) a flat funding amount for each course. (See the full brief for more on these!)
As the goal of the Course Access Opportunity Incentive is to help supplement district and school offerings, states should first identify the gaps in access to courses across the state. From there, states can choose to customize their incentive based on state needs and priorities. States could determine whether and how to adjust the incentive for districts or school type (e.g. higher for rural or isolated districts and small schools than for other schools or where there are other access deserts). States could also adjust the incentive amount for certain courses, reflecting the higher cost of providing those courses, the extent of the district role in supporting a student in a course and the value of the course for college and career readiness.
A Course Access Opportunity Incentive creates a simple, thoughtful change to remove any financial disincentive for districts whose students participate in course access programs and to expand opportunities for students.
The Course Access Opportunity Incentive is one of several tools that can help states ensure that districts offer a full array of courses to their students. For more information on this and other tools, check out our full Course Access Opportunity Incentive brief.