WV Trying to “Recapture” Homeschoolers’ Money Through Virtual Public Schools
by Mike Donnelly • June 11, 2018
Taking a hint from the state’s burgeoning homeschool population, West Virginia public schools are now offering online courses that can be accessed from home.
But for families used to planning custom homeschool programs without the government’s help, the aggressive promotion of virtual public school programs can pose a dilemma.
The West Virginia Legislature authorized public schools to create virtual learning programs in 2017. Some counties are creating programs with an eye to “recapturing” lost revenue associated with homeschooled students who are leaving the public school system in large numbers.
One county staff member wrote that “We are contacting all middle and high school homeschool students to offer them our virtual program.” Another county superintendent wrote, “Our primary goal in exploring this is to recapture a percentage of the ‘homeschool’ students that are currently draining our population and coffers.”
Data shows that during the 2017-2018 school year in West Virginia there were 12,500 students enrolled in private schools and 11,196 homeschooled students. This puts the Mountaineer State very close to the benchmark first attained by North Carolina, which in 2016 became the first state to report more students enrolled in homeschools than in private schools.
There is no doubt that technology is having a significant impact on the educational landscape as more and more learning is being conducted via the internet. Top schools such as Massachusetts Institute of Technology offer course materials for free online (no degree is awarded but the information is there for those interested), and HSLDA offers a wide range of high school courses through its own online academy.
When it comes to West Virginia virtual public school programs, however, there are issues parents may want to consider before signing up.
First of all, homeschooled students enrolled even part-time in the virtual programs would be subject to public school oversight.
At least one county policy declares that students enrolled in a virtual program would be considered fully enrolled public school students for funding and compulsory attendance purposes. Another county policy would require that virtual students be subject to “mandatory weekly face-to-face meetings” for at least the initial nine weeks of the course. Virtual students also would be subject to truancy proceedings if they did not meet the standards set by the program.
One change that might appeal to athletes is that homeschooled students enrolled in at least four classes in a virtual program would be eligible to participate in public school sports. However, the organization that oversees most high school sports in the state declares: “Homeschool and nonpublic school students wishing to participate in WVSSAC interscholastic activities and events must meet eligibility requirements as set forth by WVSSAC rule.”
There are other reasons to be wary of public school virtual programs.
Some research has suggested that the academic achievement of students enrolled in public virtual programs is subpar compared to privately homeschooled students.
HSLDA has also heard from those who have left online public virtual schools that the lack of flexibility has been a significant problem and contributed to why they returned to a more private and parent-directed approach.
Homeschoolers who are considering incorporating public virtual learning into their learning plan would be well advised to ensure they understand precisely what they are signing up for and what obligations they are taking on.
HSLDA affirms the right of parents to decide what is the best learning environment for each child. When parents are free to choose and direct their child’s education, children thrive. And that is what we are all about—protecting that right to make homeschooling possible!