Funding advice for online learning

As online learning continues to gain momentum across the country, education experts are warning that policies surrounding this popular learning option are shaky at best. A new report by the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL) is calling for a better policy and funding framework to make sure students are getting the best education possible.

The report, “Policy and Funding Frameworks for Online Learning,” written by John Watson and Butch Gemin of Evergreen Consulting Associates, and published by iNACOL, is the fifth report of iNACOL’s six-report series called Promising Practices in Online Learning, which explores some of the approaches being taken by “practitioners and policymakers in response to key issues in online learning.”

The series was commissioned by iNACOL, because interest in, and applications to, online learning institutions have increased. For example, last year iNACOL estimates there were more than one million students enrolled in online courses. More than 30 states have state-led online programs, and more than half of the school districts in the U.S. offer online courses and services.

However, even though online learning is growing at the rate of 30 percent annually, access to online schools and courses is not keeping pace with the demand from students and parents. iNACOL estimates that more than 40 percent of middle and high school students want to enroll in online courses–more than 20 million students.

“Today, every student can access a world-class education with online courses taught by talented, qualified teachers at any location,” said Susan Patrick, president of iNACOL.

“The barriers to entry are outdated policies restricting student registrations, funding policies that limit choice, and seat-time requirements. Policy makers are looking to find new solutions for education reform, and online learning will allow every student to choose customized, world-class educational options.”

By publishing this report, iNACOL hopes to guide policy makers toward “effective choices to support the high-quality online and blended learning environments potentially available to every child today.”

The challenges

The report details many considerations policy makers must take into account for online learning, the first being that there are many “dimensions,” or programs that vary widely in comprehensiveness, reach, delivery methods, locus of control, and more.

For example, differences in reach are important because several states draw distinctions between online programs that serve students across multiple districts, the entire state, and beyond. The report declares that because funding for K-12 education in the U.S. has historically been structured around local control, education and policy leaders have never had to deal with issues such as who pays a teacher’s salary if he or she teaches from another district or even another state, or who gets the state’s per-pupil funding allotment–the district, the virtual learning provider, or some combination?”

Questions that deal with reach typically center on issues such as teacher certification and reciprocity, variations in graduation requirements, portability of credits, meeting state standards, and accreditation requirements, says the report.