A virtual charter school in Arizona wants to expand to Indiana with a model that offers parents a cash stipend for enrichment activities and school materials.
Colearn Academy, an all-virtual school that offers students three learning paths with varying degrees of independence, is seeking permission from Education One, a charter licensing body run by Trine University, a private university in Angola, Ind.
But a similar pattern has already landed another Indiana virtual school in hot water with lawmakers, who passed legislation earlier this year that expanded a previous ban on schools offering cash as an incentive to s ‘to register.
In a statement, Colearn Indiana representative Kimberly Phillips did not directly respond to whether her stipends could be considered enrollment incentives, but instead said the funding was intended to provide “personalized educational experiences.” .
“Unlike a traditional school that purchases the same educational materials and curriculum for each student, our Enrichment Account allows a student to engage in a personalized learning experience based on their individual interests and needs. “, said Phillips.
Lindsay Omlor, executive director of charter schools for Education One, said she could not comment on a school application that is still pending review.
Controversy leads to broadening of incentives law
In 2020, Chalkbeat reported on criticism of an Indiana school that offered parents money to buy school supplies including Netflix subscriptions, museum memberships and toys.
That school, Tech Trep Academy, later switched to a points-based system which it says is not an incentive to enroll.
Some lawmakers disagreed. Earlier this year, they passed a law that expanded the existing ban on monetary enrollment incentives to include “any item that has monetary value, including cash or a gift card.”
The Indiana Department of Education said in a statement that it has “worked to communicate the requirements of” the new law to help schools stay compliant. The department previously said it contacted Tech Trep about concerns in May.
Colearn applies to Education One
Colearn submitted an application in August to Education One, which oversees 12 public charter schools and 4,200 students in Indiana.
Colearn’s application says the school will enroll students statewide, but will target “rural communities” in central Indiana counties like Marion, Boone, Hamilton and Howard.
It also places particular emphasis on recruiting families who would otherwise choose to homeschool.
“Colearn has a unique opportunity to serve these families, especially in the specified counties by providing access to resources that families could not acquire on their own,” the app states.
His model offers three pathways for students – one in which students take lessons from a Colearn teacher and two others in which students use an online or home-based program monitored by a program mentor. The mentor can be a parent or someone who teaches the children in their care, depending on the request.
The school plans to provide a $600 annual stipend to program mentors to enroll their students in outside extracurricular activities or to purchase supplies or an alternative program. Program mentors use an online portal to place their orders, which are then approved or rejected by a Colearn teacher.
“Providing funds to all families levels the playing field so that any family can enroll their child in enriching activities to promote their child’s development, regardless of socio-economic status, gender, religion, race or ethnicity,” the app reads.
But Kylene Varner, a homeschooling advocate with the Indiana Association of Home Educators, said not only would the sum Colearn offer not go far, but taking it would force families to give up freedom. education that could have attracted them to home schooling.
Indiana law defines a homeschool as a “non-public, unaccredited” school. Phillips said students who enroll at Colearn would be considered public school students at a charter school, not homeschoolers.
Indiana home schools have few requirements, including keeping attendance records. Unlike homeschool students, Colearn students would be required to participate in baseline and status assessments, according to the application.
Varner, who backed the new incentive law, said it’s a misconception homeschooling has to be expensive because many families are taking a low-cost approach through free programs and library resources. .
“People forget that families are homeschooling because they chose not to be part of the public school system,” she said.
Next steps and timeline
In his application, Colearn also touted the successes of his Arizona charter school, which opened in 2021. This school also offers an annual stipend of $600 to parents or program mentors for school materials and extracurricular activities.
At Education One, Colearn’s application is being reviewed by a team of finance, facilities and education consultants, as well as legal counsel, according to the Education One website.
Applications that go through the entire process are ultimately approved by the three Education One Board members.
The school hopes to open for the 2023-24 school year. While it is unclear when Education One will approve or deny the application, the authorizer recommends schools submit an application at least nine months prior to the scheduled start date.
Aleksandra Appleton covers Indiana education policy and writes about K-12 schools across the state. Contact her at [email protected]