A new Indiana school that combines virtual education and elements of homeschooling is prompting questions about the limits of school choice and how the state will enforce K-12 regulations at a time when more parents are opting for online learning.
The school, Tech Trep Academy, is operated by a Utah company under contract with Cloverdale Community Schools. It opened in the fall of 2020 and enrolls 175 students.
Critics have focused on two issues: whether the school complies with state law that requires five or six hours of daily instruction, and whether it is appropriate to use state funds to buy “supplemental” learning materials for students, including computers and Disney Plus memberships.
Tech Trep director and marketing specialist Janet Cox said the school provides “the best of both worlds,” combining the close parent involvement of homeschooling with the structure and funding of a public school.
Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb called on the State Board of Education to delay the fall 2020 enrollment “count day” to address worries about school funding in the coronavirus era. Instead, the board opted for a different approach – and arguably a better one.
Instead of postponing the count, the board decided Wednesday to have its executive director adjust the state school funding formula “to ensure full anticipated funding for students receiving virtual education due to COVID-19,” in the words of a news release.
It’s entirely possible that Indiana schools will lose millions of dollars in state funding if they aren’t opening their doors to in-person instruction this fall.
Sen. Rod Bray, R-Martinsville, the Senate president pro tem, raised the issue in a letter last week to school officials, pointing out that state law says online classes qualify for only 85% of normal funding.
Gov. Eric Holcomb and several legislative leaders indicated in June that the funding restriction would be lifted as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Bray said there is “a strong appetite” in the legislature for making that change for schools that offer online learning as an option.
“However, there is no guarantee such an exception will be made for schools that don’t give families the option of in-person instruction in a school building,” he wrote. “Therefore, schools that don’t offer in-person instruction should plan on operating under the current funding policy.”