Public options for Private / Independent Students

Keeping Pace 2013 is available for download at Over the coming weeks we’re going to post highlights of the report here in our blog. Private and independent schools are discussed in Keeping Pace for the first time in 2013; Monday we looked at why they are beginning to adopt online and blended courses, Tuesday’s post highlighted the early signs of online and blended activity in the private sector, and today we’ll look at those states that allow private students to take funded public school courses.

One of the key issues of interest to educators in private schools, particularly in parochial schools, is whether private school students are eligible to take any publicly funded online courses. Almost all students can take online courses by becoming public school students, either as part-time or full-time public schools students, and nuance exists in the mechanisms by which states allow access to publicly funded courses or schools for private or homeschooled students. In Montana, for example, a student could enroll as a part-time student in a school district and take a Montana Digital Academy course. In doing so, however, the student would be considered a public school student, and would be included in state reporting, making it difficult to quantify the number of private or homeschooled students taking publicly funded courses.

Further, some public programs provide online courses to students who are primarily non-public school students—but the courses are available only if parents pay for them. These become, effectively, private-pay options for non-public school students.

States fall into one of three categories in terms of options for private and homeschooled students:

  1. 21 states do not offer state-supported supplemental online courses for any students through either a state virtual school or a course choice program, so there are no public options for private and homeschooled students.
  2. 8 states offer state-supported supplemental online courses and explicitly make them available to private and homeschooled students - Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Ohio, South Carolina, Texas, Utah.
  3. The remaining states have some state-supported online course options and often have some mechanism by which private and homeschooled students can pay for online courses, but the mechanisms are based on specific schools or programs instead of on state policy.

There are a few states that explicitly allow private school students to take publicly funded online courses or otherwise subsidize online course options. These include:

  • ilearnOhio authorizes courses and providers for K-12 students. Although most courses require a fee, there is limited funding for a one-time tuition waiver for Advanced Placement courses that is available to all students in Ohio, including private school and homeschooled students.
  • Utah’s Statewide Online Education Program makes online courses from multiple providers available to private school and homeschooled students free of charge.
  • South Carolina’s Virtual School Program makes supplemental online courses available for free to students in public and private schools, and homeschooled students.
  • Florida allows students at most grade levels to take online courses for free if they are Florida residents, and they retain private school/student status.
  • Georgia Virtual School received a funding allotment from the state for private and homeschooled students. Once the appropriation is exhausted students may pay $250 per semester course. Vermont’s state-supported supplemental courses are also available to private school students, although availability is limited.
  • Alabama ACCESS, the state virtual school, makes supplemental online courses available to private school students as of SY 2013-14, but the student must pay for the courses.
  • The Texas Virtual School Network allows students who attend private schools to enroll in online courses through their district of residence. These students must pay for TXVSN courses and they continue to be considered non-public school students.

In contrast, a few states, including Oklahoma and Nevada, explicitly deny students attending private schools the opportunity to take publicly funded online courses.

These attributes of individual states are reviewed in each state profile.