State virtual schools play an important role, but some are flat or dwindling

A previous post discussed growing state virtual schools. It also mentioned, without going into detail, that other state virtual schools are staying flat or experiencing declining enrollments. Although state virtual schools are operating in 26 states, in only about half those states are they having an impact at significant scale. Florida Virtual School (FLVS) is still by far the largest state virtual school in the country; however, its enrollments dropped last year for the first time in its history. It served 377,508 supplemental course completions to 192,820 unique students in SY 2013–14, decreases of 8% and 7% respectively. FLVS is unusual among state virtual schools in that it also offers a full-time option to a large number of students (5,104). Florida SB1514 (2013) changed the funding structure for all schools, traditional and virtual, including FLVS. Previously, districts received full funding for up to six courses for each student, and FLVS received funding for all courses completed by students, even if the FLVS course took the student’s course load beyond one FTE. With the passage of SB1514, students can no longer generate more than one FTE; instead, a student’s FTE is distributed proportionally by the department of education to each district (FLVS is considered a district) for as many courses as a student takes. This created an incentive for districts to encourage students to take in-district traditional or virtual courses as they potentially can lose money if students take any out-of-district courses. The funding changes and an increase in the number of online options available to students at the district level resulted in reduced enrollments for the first time in FLVS history, and an increase in enrollments in the district-run options, including FLVS franchises. The total supplemental course enrollments served in Florida, however, stayed relatively flat after years of double-digit growth.

State virtual school enrollments in Utah and Louisiana dropped due to policy changes as well.

  • Utah’s state virtual school (the Electronic High School) served 4,817 students, a decrease of 117%, in SY 2013–14, while the number of districts offering online courses via the Statewide Online Education Program (SOEP) increased. SOEP is among the first and best-known course choice programs in the country, but the program is still quite small (though growing), serving 3,208 course enrollments (or 6,416 quarter credits) in SY 2013–14, an increase of 236% from the previous year.
  • From 2000 through 2013, Louisiana had a state virtual school, Louisiana Virtual School (LVS). In 2012, Act 2 (HB976) enacted sweeping reforms to public K–12 education, including initial implementation of the Course Choice program, which replaced LVS. With SB179 (2014), Course Choice has been replaced by the Supplemental Course Academy (SCA), through which high school courses are offered. Funding is now through the Minimum Foundation Program (MFP), provided as an incremental funding stream in addition to the regular public education funding formula. During the transition from LVS to Course Choice and now SCA, the number of student enrollments in supplemental courses (online and other) decreased by 61%, from 6,414 in SY 2012–13 to 2,479 course enrollments in SY 2013–14.

In addition, some state virtual schools have seen erratic fluctuations in enrollments.

  • The Texas Virtual School Network (TxVSN) had an enrollment increase of 102% in SY 2012–13, and then a 50% drop in SY 2013–14, possibly due to changes in funding and competition from district programs.
  • Montana Digital Academy had an 18% increase in course enrollments in SY 2013–13 and a 15% decrease in SY 2013–14, primarily due to a change in its credit recovery model that increased course completions but decreased the number of courses students could take at one time.

See the Keeping Pace 2014 annual report for several tables (here and here) and the state virtual school map.