Washington State has been progressive in education policy in many respects.For instance, it embraced online learning in public schools earlier than many states, created Alterative Learning Experience (ALE) programs, and approved the 2005 digital program law.
Since then, ALE programs have become an accepted, valued and vibrant part of public education in the Evergreen State.But some legislators in Olympia seem willing to roll back progress by singling them out for significant and additional budget cuts.
Let’s be clear.School districts aren’t seeking extra funds for ALE programs, and they don’t receive them now.This debate is about whether basic education funds provided to all students should be cut for specific students whose parents have chosen accepted alternative forms of public education.So there are matters of equity and fairness at stake.
The roughly $5900 cost per student at public schools operated by Washington Virtual Academies is more than what the state provides school districts for other public school students and less than the cost of most online programs.
Bar charts posted by Washington Online Families put the numbers in perspective: Average per-pupil funding for traditional public school students in Washington State is $10,035. Current funding for full-time online ALE students is $5,211. After the 20 percent cut proposed by the House, the amount would drop to $4,169.
At least one Washington State organization has suggest that cutting ALE programs abrogates Washington State’s constitutional requirement to properly fund education and “make ample provision” to educate all children.
I’m not a lawyer, but my hunch is they are right.Students enrolled in ALE programs are full-time equivalent students, and their school districts are owed the same state basic education funds expended on other public school children.So the cuts being considered in Olympia are excessive, and on potentially shaky ground.
Remember, multi-district online programs go through a rigorous approval process that includes assurances and proof of student progress that is not required of other public school programs.And legislators can review how state funds are spent by districts in annual digital learning reports.
I hope legislators can review these facts before finishing work on the budget in the coming days or weeks.