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Kentucky Districts Attract Homeschool Students With Online Courses

By guest blogger Leo Doran

An increasing number of public school districts are recruiting area home-school students to their online course offerings in a practice that secures per-student state funding, according to experts that have tracked the trend. 

The Lexington Herald Leader reports that school districts across Kentucky are hoping to recruit from an estimated pool of more than 20,000 home-schooled students to enroll in online offerings. The advantage for districts, local officials told the Herald Leader, is that once a student is enrolled, the district can count the student towards its overall enrollment, thus expanding the per-pupil funding it receives from the state.  

At least one district in the commonwealth, Wayne County Public Schools, is offering free access to online courses for area home-schooled students, saying the move actually makes sense for the district financially.

For their part, home-schooled students who take online courses may be able to earn a diploma from their district, while still satisfying their preference for off-campus instruction.

The financial implications remain a point of confusion for some. Here's how state officials said it should work: Overall, districts receive $3,200 in state funds for students who are enrolled full-time. For home-school students who are enrolled part-time in online courses, districts will receive a pro-rated portion of that total amount.  

In Wayne County, it costs districts an estimated $100 to provide a single student with a single online course, making the arrangement profitable for the school district.

Rachel Coleman, the executive director of the Coalition for Responsible Home Education, spoke to Education Week by phone about what she sees as a trend toward a similar dynamic of incentive structures emerging in states across the country.

It's a "gray area," she said, in part because a student who enrolls in a public school system, even if only online, isn't really being home-schooled any longer.

Furthermore, while many home-schooling providers (generally parents) welcome the idea of additional support and resources from local districts—such as a teacher who checks in on their child's progress periodically—other parents chafe at the idea of the regulatory strings that are often attached to such programs.

Overall, Coleman, whose group advocates for greater oversight of home schools as well as for more flexibility and openness towards homeschooling on behalf of local school districts, cautiously supports programs like the ones pushed by Wayne County schools.  

"I'm O.K. with programs like that, providing that students are getting more than a token level of services," she said. Among the added supports she hopes to see are options to participate in social events and extracurricular activities. 


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