Governor Terry Branstad is urging legislators to embrace on-line learning academies as part of the education reform package that is scheduled for debate in the Iowa House later today.

“There’s a place for technology to augment and improve learning opportunities that weren’t available in the past,” Branstad says. “We shouldn’t outlaw or prevent those innovative ideas.”

Some critics object to the for-profit on-line learning academy proposal because students would have no face-to-face interaction with a teacher in the classroom. Students would only see and hear a teacher via computer. Branstad expects about one percent of Iowa students to opt for the on-line academy, but he says it could help students in small, rural schools take the advanced courses they can’t get in their local district.

“The fact is these kids today know a lot more about technology than we ever did and technology is a tool for learning,” Branstad says. “It’s not the be-and-end-all of learning, but it is a tool and we should not be restricting and preventing that use of these effective tools that can help enhance learning for our students.”

Branstad’s education advisor says on-line academies are also attractive for students who have fragile medical conditions or who’re bullied by classmates in a traditional school. The governor suggests legislators of both parties will be taking a “minimalist” approach to education reform if they fail to embrace his recommendations, including Branstad’s call for on-line learning academies.

“Technology’s not the total answer,” Branstad says. “You know, we’ve said a quality teacher in every classroom and having a great principal in every building, those are critically important, but also let’s recognize that today’s kids definitely know how to use technology.”

Expanding the number of Iowa K-12 students in on-line academies has become a flash point in the legislature’s education reform debate. Two Iowa school districts are operating on-line schools today and some lawmakers have asked the state’s attorney general to determine if those schools had the authority to do so. Other lawmakers question the student-teacher ratios in on-line academies. One on-line academy executive told lawmakers last week there are more than 200 students in some on-line high school courses and in elementary grades, the maximum class size is 50 students.

Branstad made his comments this morning during his weekly statehouse news conference. Find the audio here.