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State Policy Suggestions for Virtual Schools

There's a new report released this week that outlines the variety of state policies surrounding online learning and gives suggestions on how those policies could be changed to better support an online learning environment. The report, by the Vienna, Va.-based International Association for K-12 Online Learning, or iNACOL, is called Policy and Funding Frameworks for Online Learning.

Unsurprisingly, the biggest issue with virtual schools is funding, the report says. Although there is some expectation that online schools can save districts money, the report asserts that, in reality, it takes just as much funding to run an online school effectively as it does to create and maintain a brick-and-mortar school. In addition, the funding models used for many brick-and-mortar schools, which can be based on seat time and attendance, do not work for the online environment, says the report.

A large part of the document focuses on the many different types of online schools and how they should be defined. Supplemental vs. full-time schools, charter virtual schools vs. traditional online public schools, and blended-learning models which combine face-to-face and online instruction are issues more states need to get a handle on, the paper suggests. By identifying and defining the types of online schools out there, the regulations on how those schools should be overseen, the kind of funding they should receive, and how they will be operated will all be easier to discern.

The report cautions against three particular policies: capping the number of students who can enroll in an online school; requiring a certain amount of face-to-face instruction that prevents fully online schools from operating; and setting the funding levels for online students lower than those in traditional brick-and-mortar schools.

A lot of these ideas have been floating around the online education environment for a while, but the paper is a good read on this topic. Considering the rate at which online schools are expanding, keeping up with the policies to make sure students in those programs are receiving a high-quality education with the right amount of funding, oversight, and evaluation is becoming increasingly important.

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