My daughter had the good fortune of having an extraordinary teacher in fifth grade.  In a new school, he had managed to wrangle half as many computers as he had students.  With relentless personalization, integration, and application, he brought education to life and empowered a group of students, many of whom had not been successful in school.  Visiting his classroom in 1995 convinced me that we needed online learning in Washington State.

The Internet Academy launched the following year.  In its second year, Internet Academy became the first online K-12 school in the country.  It quickly served 1000 student—about half seeking acceleration and the other half catching up.  Washington remains a top tier state in online enrollments, but that may change.

The Washington Senate is threatening 10% cuts on reimbursement rates for online learning, the House 20%.  Budget cutting is an understandable reality this year, but this provision is odd because the state won’t save any money.  If online options aren’t available, kids will just go back to more expensive brick and mortar schools.  The cuts may close a handful of schools and that may drive some families back to unaffiliated home education—potentially few million dollars, but certainly not worth the price of reducing learning options for all Washington students.

Some folks think online schools should get less money because they don’t have buildings or buses—they already operate at a 25% savings to Washington’s traditional schools.  Without charter schools, online learning providers in Washington contract with local districts, and they typically don’t receive any local level funding.

Internet Academy operates with average funding of $4975, or less than half of the national average, and a quarter less than most online schools.  A state manadate that requiring that the Federal Way district to cut their funding back to $4000 (as the House suggests) may cause them to close shop, eliminate full and part time options for students statewide but not save the state a dime.  How does that make sense?

Instead of dumb cuts, legislature should encourage OSPI, the state education agency,  to develop smart plans to boost options and reduce costs.  For example, OSPI could request bids for Advanced Placement courses, foreign language courses, secondary math sequences, and virtual speech therapy.  After considering cost and quality, the state (or group of districts) could buy a block of services (often called an Advanced Market Commitment).  District run programs like Internet Academy could compete with national providers for a share of these contracts.   Districts could share cost savings with the state.  Families get more options, districts save money—everyone wins.  Smart options beat dumb cuts.

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The Washington Senate is threatening 10% cuts to reimbursement rates for online learning, the House 20%.  Budget cutting is an understandable reality this year, but this provision is odd because the state won’t save any money.  If online options aren’t available, kids will just go back to more expensive brick and mortar schools.

Online learning already saves districts 25%, providers typically don’t receive any local levy funding.   The Federal Way Internet Academy that I launched in 1996 operates with average funding of $4975, or less than half of the national average, and a quarter less than most online schools around the country.  Cutting their funding back to $4000 (as the House suggests) may cause them to close shop, eliminate full and part time options for students statewide but not save the state a dime.  How does that make sense?

Instead of dumb cuts, legislature should encourage OSPI, to develop smart plans to boost options and reduce costs.  Issue an RFP, buy courses based on quality and cost.  Everyone wins.  Smart options beat dumb cuts.

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