POLICY HAS PLAYED A MAJOR ROLE IN THE DEVELOPMENT OF K-12 DIGITAL LEARNING, particularly in the early years of online learning in the late 1990s and first decade of the new millennium. State legislatures, governors, and boards of education passed laws, enacted budgets, and created rules that supported online schools enrolling students from across entire states, funded state virtual schools, and in other ways provided for increased opportunities for students via support of online schools and courses. These changes did not occur in all states—and significant gaps in access to online courses and schools remain—but each year saw significant activity directly related to digital learning.
Policy is still an important driver of digital learning, but it is less direct now than it was in the past for two related reasons. First, as much digital learning activity has moved from state-level entities to districts and schools, there is less need for states to make policy changes to support this activity. For example, creating a state virtual school often required the passing of a new law, and funding to be allocated. In contrast, in most states no policy change is required for schools to contract with a supplier to provide online content, tools, and resources to their students, and the funding comes mostly from existing school budgets. Second, much of the policy focus in recent years has shifted to other issues including the ways the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) is being implemented, and other issues including school safety, teacher pay, and state education budget allocations.
Still, policy remains a driver of digital learning activity, whether directly or indirectly. This section reviews accountability, funding, course access, and a variety of other policy issues related to digital learning.