Virtual Online Schools

Public School Alternative Learning Experience Programs, virtual and online schools have aimed and set their sights on homeschoolers.

It behooves all homeschoolers to at least know that:

  1. These programs are public schools.
  2. As a homeschooler, you can access these public school programs on a part-time basis and not lose your homeschool status, and
  3. You must be given, in writing, and understand the difference between homeschooling and enrollment in an ALP/virtual/online school.

Details regarding this is listed below:

Senate Bill 5828 Digital or Online Learning. This bill mandates an unprecedented revision of the definition for taxpayer-funded public schools.

The Superintendent of Public Instruction shall revise the definition of a full-time equivalent student to include students who receive instruction through digital programs. “Digital programs” means electronically delivered learning that occurs primarily away from the classroom.

This bill mandates and unprecedented revision of the definition for the funding of a full-time public school student.

The Superintendent of Public Instruction has the authority to adopt rules to implement the revised definition beginning with the 2005-2007 bienniums for school districts claiming state funding for the programs.

As a result of this bill we have the new Public School Alternative Learning Experience Program (ALP) code, WAC 392-121-182 which went into effect on August 5, 2005. These two types of programs, online/virtual programs and what we sometimes call parent partnered programs (ALP’s), operate under the same above code.

Just as ALP’s have been targeting homeschoolers for enrollment since January, 1996, now digital and online public schools are doing the same. One highly visible difference between the touting of these two program options is that online and virtual schools seem to have an unlimited budget for aggressively promoting to the homeschool community. Homeschoolers have reported receiving multiple letters, flyers, brochures and media ads.

The advertising literature is not always clear about a student’s status under the compulsory attendance laws once enrolled. Virtual schools are public school alternative programs and full time enrollees are public school students, not homeschoolers. A homeschooler who abandons home-based instruction and enrolls in an ALP generates funding for that district and program. At that time they come under accountability to the taxpayers of the state. Homeschool parents, on the other hand, educating outside taxpayer-funded programs remain in control. Our homeschool law grants that all decisions relating to philosophy or doctrine, selection of books, teaching materials and curriculum, and methods, timing and place in the provision or evaluation of home-based instruction shall be the responsibility of the parent.

There’s another point that the advertising material does not make clear and that is, just like ALP schools, homeschoolers may enroll in online schools on a part-time basis. Under that option a student remains a homeschooler/Home-Based Instruction. A district cannot determine that their ALP program is not open to part-time enrollment.

“A district may not arbitrarily determine an alternative learning experience program is not open to part-time enrollment. The relevant law is RCW 28A.150.350. In summary, this law requires school districts to allow part-time enrollment in the same manner as for other public school students. Thus, ALP programs should not discriminate between full-time and part-time status when enrolling students in the program. Further, programs that may need to limit student enrollment based on budgetary constraints, or program design issues, or for other reasons, and that establish waiting lists, should not discriminate between full-time and part-time status when enrolling students off the waiting list.”

Equally as important as homeschool parents knowing their part-time enrollment rights in ALE programs is for every parent to have full disclosure. In other words, be given accurate information about enrollment options. The new implementation guidelines for ALP’s state: “Prior to enrollment parent(s) or guardian(s) shall be provided with, and sign, documentation attesting to the understanding of the difference between home-based instruction and enrollment in an alternative learning experience.” This description is on a document titled “Statement of Understanding”. These parent-signed statements are to be retained for audit.