A shift in online school funding in Colorado
Nationally, most online students are funded at or below the level of funding for face-to-face students. This is the case in Colorado, where students in multi-district fully online schools are funded at a set amount specific to these schools that is about 92% of the funding level for brick-and-mortar charter students, and about 72% of the funding level for brick-and-mortar public school students, according to an as-yet unpublished report from iNACOL. Multi-district online schools receive a base funding amount, but do not receive most additional category or weighted funds. However, at its June 11 meeting, Colorado’s State Board of Education approved a two-year pilot program that will allow Title I funds to follow students (a lengthy discussion of the pilot program begins at minute 30 in the part 5 recording). The initial year of the pilot applies only to Hope Online Learning Academy Elementary School and its authorizer, Douglas County Schools.
The Colorado Department of Education identified the following criteria for eligibility for the pilot program; the school must:
- Be certified as a multi-district online school.
- Be serving at least 10 out-of-district students who qualify for free / reduced lunch.
- Not be authorized by the Charter School Institute because those schools already go through a special allocation process.
- Have a significantly higher free / reduced lunch percentage compared to the LEA’s percentage.
- Be currently served by the LEA with Title I funds in SY 2013-14.
- Be serving meals as part of the school lunch program, which means the online school is capable of providing supplemental services.
Two schools in the state meet the first five qualifications, GOAL Academy and Hope Online Learning, but Hope is the only school to meet all six qualifications. Other schools may become eligible for the pilot in year two if they then meet all six qualifications.
As a result, Douglas County Schools will receive an additional $547,072 in federal Title I money in SY 2014-15 (and likely a similar amount in 2015-16) to provide services for poor students. The pilot will focus on studying the impact of those funds on the qualifying students, the receiving school, and the sending district, as well as any changes that will be required of CDE.
There was some concern raised at the meeting regarding the inequity of reducing money sent to some of the poorer districts in the state in order to send it to the wealthiest district in the state, however, the SBE supported it because they believe the bottom line is that it simply makes sense to send the money intended for these students to the school they are attending, not simply the district in which they reside.