State auditors say online programs run by three Washington school districts might owe the state anywhere from $80,000 to $5.3 million for incorrectly documenting the number of students taking internet classes, reports the News Tribune of Tacoma. School officials in Steilacoom, Federal Way, and Quillayute Valley insist their districts served the students at issue in the audit. They say the problems cited by auditors stem from trying to track enrollment, learning hours, and academic progress in the expanding frontier of online education. "I feel we’ve done what we’re supposed to do, given the guidance the state gave us in 2005-06, when we first started this program and there were no preprinted guidelines," said Art Himmler, superintendent of the Steilacoom Historical School District. "I think we need to recognize this form of instruction doesn’t jibe with the rules for brick-and-mortar instruction." Virtual-school programs have mushroomed since the state Legislature made it more feasible for districts to offer online classes to students statewide, starting with the 2006-07 school year. And districts’ online programs don’t have to stay within their boundaries. The Steilacoom and Quillayute Valley programs recruit students from all over Washington. The audit, requested by the Legislature, focused on districts with the three largest online programs in the 2006-07 school year. After examining records of a small sample of students, auditors found that reporting errors resulted in state overpayments of $36,409 for Steilacoom’s Washington Virtual Academy and $27,843 for Federal Way’s Internet Academy. If the sample results were projected to the programs’ total enrollment that school year, Steilacoom would owe the state more than $3 million and Federal Way more than $1 million. In a written response to the auditor, Himmler called the methodology "flawed," and said auditors used too small of a sample…

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