Kansas: High quality online learning increases equity in education

April 4, 2014 by

(Testimony provided to the Kansas Senate Ways and Means Committee by iNACOL colleague Maria Worthen on April 1, 2014)

Chairman Masterson, Members of the Committee, thank you for the opportunity to submit testimony regarding proposed cuts to funding for online learning, which could have a catastrophic impact on educational opportunities for the 5,900 Kansas students who today benefit from this option.

iNACOL’s mission is to ensure all students have access to a world-class education and quality blended and online learning opportunities that prepare them for a lifetime of success. iNACOL is a non-profit organization with 4,400 members working in the field of blended and online learning. Our work is focused on research, policy, and quality.

Last year, we conducted an online learning cost adequacy study, which asked the question, “what are the actual resources needed to ensure all students could meet state standards and performance expectations in an online school or program?” Our research findings revealed the costs and funding levels required for online learning programs are different for a full-time online school or a supplemental online course provider, offering single courses.

Our key research findings: full-time online schools’ funding level for adequacy should be close to $8000 per pupil to offer high quality instruction and services for full-time students. Supplemental online course funding requires about $600 per course.

The difference? A student enrolled in a full-time online school goes only to that school. The school is responsible for supporting the student completely and is held accountable for that student’s success just like any other public school would be. In addition to paying for teacher salaries and curriculum development, the school must provide support services such as a principal, school counselors, psychologists, special education teachers, and tutors.  In our study, we found that a high quality full-time online school should be funded at 93 to 95 percent of the traditional per pupil funding amount—about $8,000 per year.

A supplemental program offers individual online courses and the main costs are instructional staff and curriculum, while the student’s home school provides the support services. In our cost study, we found that a high quality supplemental course should be funded at 7% of the per pupil funding amount—about $600 per course, per semester.

High quality online learning increases equity in education by providing highly personalized pathways for students with a wide variety of needs and abilities, and enables blended and competency based learning. Online learning allows students to accelerate, catch up when they’re behind, and provides high quality educational options for students who live in remote rural areas, who are medically fragile, or who learn best at their own pace.

As you look for funding levels to ensure an equitable funding formula, I urge you to ensure that it does not come at the expense of equity for the 4,700 full time online and 1,200 supplemental online students in Kansas. In preparation for my testimony today, I spoke with a number of iNACOL members in Kansas, who are educators and experts across the state. I’d like to share some of their feedback.

According to Brooke Blanck, Principal of the iQ Academy in the Manhattan-Ogden USD 383, “In Kansas, virtual schools already receive less funding per student, as we do not receive ANY of the weightings that a Brick And Mortar school does for their students.  The remedy for that was for the state to fund virtual education with an additional 5% of the Base Budget Per Pupil for each student.  If the funding is cut by 50%, any high-quality, full functioning virtual school with highly qualified teachers that are providing instruction, feedback, evaluation, and student support will not survive.  The ones that do continue to remain open would potentially be more of a correspondence course provider without the instructional support.  Would we ever consider putting students in a brick and mortar school without a teacher, but just some textbooks and ask them to read it, get what they can out of it, and hope they meet common core standards, perform adequately on state assessments, and be college and career ready?”

According to another public school district provider, the proposed cut to the funding for online learning “will eliminate many options for Kansas students needing alternative modes of learning and will negatively affect the state’s yearly graduation rate.”

Online learning is an important option for more than 2 million students across the nation taking courses and enrolled in full-time online schools. Thank you for your important work on this topic of equitable funding for ensuring access to students who need it most.

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