Education Policy

Indiana Sets New Rules for Virtual Schools

Indiana is trying to get its virtual schools under control. The abysmal track record of a couple of virtual school operators in the state have called into question the Indiana State Board of Education's oversight of virtual schools, so lawmakers acted.

A new law that goes into effect July 1, 2019 requires students who are enrolling in virtual programs after July 1, 2020 to go through an annual "onboarding process and orientation" along with their parents before they'll be allowed to participate in online classes.

It also requires a virtual program or school to withdraw students who are "habitual" truants. That problem alone has been at the heart of the argument for greater regulation of virtual charters. Last year, according to reporting by Chalkbeat, almost 2,000 students "never earned a single credit" from the state's virtual charters, even though most were counted as being enrolled nearly all year and the schools that had them registered received funding to educate them  —  to the tune of $10 million.

Most of those absent students were enrolled in one of two schools: Indiana Virtual School or Indiana Virtual Pathways Academy. Both schools are located at the same physical address and were chartered under Daleville Community Schools, a tiny district near Muncie. Earlier this year, the district, which has about 800 students enrolled in its physical campuses, voted not to reauthorize the charters for either school.

Observers have predicted that if nobody picks up those charters, both schools will close. However, the online sites for both are also continuing to take registration for the current school year.

Under the new law, anybody employed as a licensed teacher in a virtual education program must take "mandatory" teacher training; and in the case of charter schools, the authorizer of the charter needs to "report the methodology used to determine attendance" and specify how it engages students.

Also, virtual schools will receive decreased funding  —  85 percent of what students in traditional schools receive.

According to Chalkbeat, directors of virtual schools have been "largely supportive of the state's efforts to improve student engagement." And one head of school, Liz Sliger, told the publication that she considered the new regulations "healthy." As she noted, "I'm not afraid of high expectations. The best thing for me is clarity. So if you want virtual schools to be responsible in attendance, then please define what that is — and that's what we'll do."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.