The Lakeville School District is looking to get more involved in the business of online education in the next year or so.

District officials will be meeting with the Minnesota Department of Education on Monday to seek permission to increase their online courses.

That approval could come in the next few months, which would allow the district to begin offering more online courses by the start of the next school year, according district officials, who discussed the issue at a recent school board meeting.

What seems to have piqued the district's interest is the fact that more than 20,000 students in Minnesota are currently taking courses strictly online.

Emily McDonald, the district's teaching and learning coordinator, said that if the 20,000 students currently online were consolidated into one district, it would be one of the 10 biggest districts in the state -- bigger than South Washington County or Rochester, the sixth- and seventh-largest districts in the state, and just behind Osseo, with about 20,000 students.

And those students, along with home-schooled students, are not affiliated with a particular district, so the millions in state funding they represent also are not dedicated to any individual district.

State funding ranges from $7,000 to more than $10,000 per student, so the potential market for these online students could mean millions in new funding for districts.

That potential market is what makes a push into online learning attractive to Lakeville and others, if they can provide the online education within the framework of their district.

Lakeville, for example, has more than 600 home-school students and more than 600 other students enrolled outside the district. Capturing some or all of those students for Lakeville online schooling could mean millions in additional state funding -- which could mean a race among districts to get more into online.

'Out-of-the-box thinking'

"We would clearly like to see some expansion," said Roz Peterson, chairwoman of the Lakeville school board. "It's definitely a trend that I see growing. It is out-of-the-box thinking."

One of the things that makes online education attractive is that students can "attend" a district from anywhere in the state. As a result, a district could grow without the large expenditures of physical expansion costs.

"We can service students in the entire state," said McDonald, who gave the school board a presentation on possible paths to follow in expanding online offerings.

Most of the school board members seemed intrigued by the idea -- especially the possibility of becoming a state leader in online learning.

The online learning being discussed is different from the current handful of hybrid courses being offered at high schools. Those courses involve students working online and also offline in class.

Curriculum options

These new offerings would be strictly online and require curriculum and teachers dedicated to online learning.

Depending on what path a district chooses to follow, it can purchase online curriculum through a company, purchase the curriculum and teacher services, or provide its own teachers. Or it can develop its own curriculum.

Peterson said the last option might be worth exploring because it would allow Lakeville to collaborate with other districts to make online learning more uniform.

But Lakeville officials cautioned that the process is in its early stages.

"This isn't just [an issue] in Minnesota. It's a growing area," Peterson said. "We are not going to be alone in all this."

Heron Marquez • 952-746-3281