Joe Robertson | Few takers for free online classes

For all those wondering whether legions of families really would transfer out of Kansas City Public Schools if they had a free option, here’s a way to find out.

Or at least get a hint.

An option already exists. And unlike the case with some of the charter schools, there’s no waiting list.

It’s the Missouri Virtual Instruction Program, or MoVIP. It’s online and by law it’s free for families in unaccredited districts like Kansas City and St. Louis.

But where’s the rush?

The tuition-based, state-managed program ordinarily would cost between $300 and $450 per course per semester.

Last year, five KC students took courses, the district says. Eight have signed up so far this year, with five more going through the paperwork to get started.

Those numbers would hardly fuel the fear among area school districts that hundreds or even thousands of students would spill out of Kansas City if the Missouri Supreme Court were to unleash another existing law — one that would compel Kansas City to pay the tuition for students who want to transfer to accredited districts.

School district lawyers in St. Louis argued at the circuit court level earlier this year that the law was impossible to fulfill, and won.

Attorneys in Kansas City argued in a separate case that the law is an unconstitutional, unfunded mandate and got a partial victory.

In both cases, lawyers relied on surveys that suggested that a significant number of students would transfer, potentially bankrupting Kansas City and St. Louis and overburdening their neighboring districts.

While the cases are tied up waiting for the Supreme Court, why haven’t more families taken the available online option?

Pam Kingsley, a Kansas City parent, suggests it’s because hardly anyone knows they have the choice. While the state has promoted MoVIP, the state and the district have done little to publicize the free option.

“Kids are not getting this because they don’t know about it,” she said.

District parent Daisy Price isn’t so sure.

She is going to try out a math course online with her seventh-grade daughter. But she wants to see how that goes before she judges the merits of the online option.

Statewide, MoVIP students’ performance on state tests was mixed in 2012. The percentage of MoVIP students scoring proficient or better was 3.2 points higher than the state average in communication arts, but 17 points below the average in math.

For now, Price is using one course just to supplement her daughter’s math education at Kansas City’s Paseo Academy for Fine and Performing Arts.

“I do believe in public education,” she said. “I am happy with Paseo.”

As for MoVIP: “It sounds good, but I’m waiting to see how it plays out.”