The request from the Campbell County (Gillette) and Niobrara County (Lusk) school districts would have allowed students to register in the Powell schools, but receive online instruction through one of the virtual schools. Powell would pay tuition to …
A request from two Wyoming school districts to participate in their online “virtual school” programs was rejected by the Powell school board Tuesday evening.Several uncertainties about the programs, as well as the possibility that Powell schools could offer a similar program through the Shoshone Learning Center, were the major reasons for the unanimous vote against the proposal.
The request from the Campbell County (Gillette) and Niobrara County (Lusk) school districts would have allowed students to register in the Powell schools, but receive online instruction through one of the virtual schools. Powell would pay tuition to the other districts through a memorandum of understanding.
Both the Campbell and Niobrara County proposals are being marketed to home-school families. The Lusk program offers a curriculum for kindergarten through grade 12, while the Gillette program is limited to grades one through six.
Deirdre Cozzens, a home-school parent, spoke to the board prior to its vote, and urged them to consider offering a virtual school opportunity. Cozzens said she was interested in taking advantage of the curriculum offered by Lusk's Wyoming Virtual Academy, and likely will enroll her children in the Academy, but she felt it would be an advantage to the Powell district if it offered its own program through Park County School District No. 1.
Cozzens said such on-line education is “a coming thing,” and would provide another option for students. She said she was speaking for herself and not the home-school community as a whole, but she believes the district might bring home-schoolers into the district, which would be a benefit to the district.
Superintendent Kevin Mitchell said he did not object to the concept in principle, and he and curriculum coordinator R.J. Kost had discussed the possibility of incorporating some type of virtual school as an alternative for Powell students within the district. However, he said there were several unanswered questions about programs the district was being asked to join.
A significant concern is that the students who were taking classes through the Lusk school would have to take the PAWS assessment required of Wyoming public school students, and their performance would be reflected in the measurement of adequate yearly progress by the Powell school district under the No Child Left Behind Act.
Another concern was that, should a student fail to meet benchmarks while studying with the virtual academy, and fail to graduate, that student would be listed as a drop-out for Powell schools, also affecting the district's performance in meeting annual yearly progress.
Mary Jo Lewis, Coordinator of Business Services, told the board that recent discussion at the state level may kill the Lusk plan. Under the state funding plan, schools are funded by local resources, and if those resources do not adequately fund the district under the state's funding model, the state makes up the difference.
“The question is whether tuition payments to the district should be counted as local resources,” Lewis said. “If they are, the district would lose funding from the state.”
Lewis said the question was being submitted to the state attorney general, and if he agrees with that ruling, the Lusk district probably could not continue the program.
“This is a show-stopper,” Lewis said.
In discussion, board members expressed concern that the district might be affected by a student's performance in a virtual school even though the district might never see the student. There also was support for providing more alternatives through the Shoshone Learning Center, which currently offers only courses through Brigham Young University.
Mitchell recommended that the district reject entering an agreement with the other districts at this time, and that the district monitor the program and determine a plan that would provide students with other opportunities in the Powell schools.
Mitchell noted that the board's action would not prevent Cozzens or other parents from enrolling their students in the Wyoming Virtual Academy directly, and Cozzens was encouraged to do so by the board and report on the experience.