State Rep. Vernon Smith made a good point Thursday when the Indiana House was discussing legislation to regulate virtual charter schools. The Gary Democrat suggested state funding for the schools should be based on how many students they enroll throughout the school year, not just in the fall.
Indiana schools receive state funding according to the number of students they enroll on a designated count day in September. If students leave after that day, the schools keep the money but no longer incur the cost of serving the students. And that happens a lot – especially at some of the virtual schools.
We know this because the Indiana Department of Education has schools report their enrollment on a second count day in February. The spring semester count doesn’t affect funding; it’s for information purposes only.
In the 2017-18 school year, one online charter school, Indiana Virtual School, reported enrollment of 3,381 students in the fall but only 1,836 students in the spring. That’s a loss of 46 percent of its students.
Indiana Virtual received nearly $20 million in state funding in 2017-18. If its allocation had been reduced for the loss of students in the spring, it would have received $4.5 million less from the state.
Another online school, Hoosier Academy Virtual Charter School, lost 22 percent of its students in 2017-18, with enrollment falling from 1,677 in the September to 1,301 in the February. It received about $1.2 million for students who were no longer enrolled in the spring.
Surprisingly, Indiana Virtual’s sister school, Indiana Virtual Pathways Academy, reported only a small decline in enrollment. This is the school, Chalkbeat Indiana reported, that didn’t get a grade in 2018 because only three of its 115 tenth-graders were enrolled for the full year and took ISTEP exams.
Where did the Indiana Virtual School students go? One possibility is that some transferred to Indiana Virtual Pathways Academy. They seem like “virtually” the same school anyway. They have identical websites, the same address, principal and superintendent and several of the same teachers.
If that’s what happened, the trend appears to have continued in the fall of 2018. Indiana Virtual School shrank to fewer than 1,000 students and Indiana Virtual Pathways Academy more than doubled its enrollment to 6,266 – making it the biggest school in Indiana.