Growing concerns over how much state education funding should go to online courses are prompting lawmakers to create a range of policies, but no clear consensus has yet emerged.
The issue of funding online schools is “huge” and “ongoing,” says Sunny Deye, a senior policy analyst at the National Conference of State Legislatures. She says, for most states, the focus is on online high school education.
One trend has been a focus on “funding student choice at the course level,” which involves taking a percentage of the funding to pay for the online course, Deye says.
Students are “blending” the brick-and-mortar experience with online courses, she says, and states are opening up to providers who can accommodate those students and parents’ choices of courses.
Some states are placing limits on how many of these online courses the student can take:
— Texas: In June, the state approved legislation that allows students to take a maximum of three courses from providers outside their district.
— Michigan: Also in June , Michigan passed legislation permitting students to take two online classes from another district each semester.
Regarding Michigan’s legislation, Jamey Fitzpatrick, president and CEO of the Michigan Virtual University , says students in grades 5-12 can reference both their local school district’s catalog of courses and the statewide catalog. He says there is nothing preventing a Michigan school district from partnering with a for-profit provider to supplement learning. However, for-profit providers cannot independently place their online courses in the statewide catalog, which will be made available the first week of October.
Tennessee passed legislation earlier this year to place a cap on how many students can be initially enrolled in full-time online schools, while also making sure the schools meet performance standards, Deye says. The bill was passed in January , and students who enroll in these full-time online schools are fully funded by the state, says Jason Horne, principal of the Tennessee Online Public School.
Quality control is another key issue, Deye says, with some states looking to create an agency to oversee online providers. A 2012 bill that would have done that failed to pass in Arizona when it was vetoed by Republican Gov. Jan Brewer. Other states, including Utah and Louisiana, give 50% of the funding upfront to the online provider and 50% upon course completion.
John Watson, founder of the Evergreen Education Group , says online schools are often funded in a similar way as charter schools. The most controversy with funding online schools, he says, has been seen in Pennsylvania and Arizona, where school districts feel they are losing a high level of funding to online schools.
Stuart Knade, chief counsel of the Pennsylvania School Boards Association, says many people believe that excessive funding goes to online schools.
“What we are missing is a funding scheme that is predictable, reliable and consistent that has a direct relationship to the cost of providing an education and the number of kids being educated,” Knade says.