Three months after it was first suggested, the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board on Thursday finally voted tentatively to hire a Dallas-based online education company to help kids who have dropped out or who are in danger of dropping out get a diploma.

The matter will return to the board Dec. 18 for final approval.

Students old enough to be seniors but well short on needed credits are eligible as well as students who have dropped out. They would take Internet-based coursework as an alternative route to a diploma.

Despite support for the concept, board members in September put off signing with for-profit Grade Results to offer the dropout recovery and prevention service, saying they had a lot of questions, including whether the company is the best option out there.

Superintendent Bernard Taylor subsequently sought proposals, and by early November, seven came back. After two rounds of vetting by small teams of educators serving as reviewers, Grade Results’ proposal received the highest scores.

The board voted 8-0 Thursday in favor of hiring Grade Results for a cost not to exceed $360,000 a year. Board member Vereta Lee abstained, and board members Craig Freeman and David Tatman were absent.

Lee questioned the expense of the initiative.

Vera Dunbar, executive director for instructional support and pupil services, said the expense depends on how many students sign on. She said 57 dropouts have expressed interest, and there are hundreds of students in house who would qualify. She said the cost should be offset over time by new state per-pupil funding the school system would receive every time a dropout goes back on the rolls.

In late September, the school system conducted a blitz to recruit potential students for the prospective program.

The original plan was to get the program going ahead of Oct. 1, the day that one of two official enrollment counts for Louisiana public schools are taken. The plan now is to have it running by January, ahead of Feb. 1, the second official enrollment snapshot.

The initiative is called “Moving Forward.” Students would come to school for half-days and take tests in school under a teacher’s supervision but could do the bulk of their work online, outside of school any time of the day.

The attraction for students is the chance to earn more credits in a shorter period of time than they would in high school. The attraction for educators is increased graduation rates and freeing schools of some of the more challenging students.

Grades for the students enrolled in the program would no longer be included when the state calculates their former high school’s performance scores. However, their scores would still be counted in the alternative school in which they are enrolled as part of the program and again when the entire district’s performance score is calculated.

After the first round of vetting, Grade Results was up against Bloomington, Minnesota-based Edmentum.

On Tuesday, the second team of reviewers rated Grade Results better overall because it showed that at least 60 percent of the students who participated in recent years ended up graduating, it offered 24-hour remote support from a highly qualified instructor and it offered content that students had to master, perhaps taking multiple times, until they could move on.

Grade Results has been in business for a decade, and its most prominent clients are the Birmingham and Mobile school districts in Alabama.

School districts across Louisiana are considering offering dropout recovery programs pursuant to Act 530, approved by the Legislature in June. It allows schools to add to the rolls dropouts they entice back, if they offer a program that meets the law’s requirements.