Education, Featured, Sherrie Peif

Providers say proposed state board of ed rules threaten homeschool learning programs

DENVER–New rules being proposed by the Colorado State Board of Education that will eliminate funding for enrichment programs offered to home-schooled children could negatively impact thousands of students statewide who are served annually by Colorado Early Colleges (CEC), according to a letter obtained by Complete Colorado.

CEC is Colorado’s largest network of tuition-free, public charter schools, that offers a wide array of academic options to more than 6,000 students, including brick-and-mortar middle and high school locations, an online campus, college direct locations, and homeschool academies.

The board is expected to take up the rule changes at its regularly scheduled meeting on Feb. 14.

In a letter obtained by Complete Colorado and sent to members of the State Board of Education, CEC President Laura Calhoun, and Chief Executive Administrator Sandi Brown say its mission to give students “regardless of background or skill level, the opportunity to pursue a growth mindset that will allow them to achieve mastery and to demonstrate that they can succeed in school, in college, and in their chosen career. No Exceptions. No Excuses” will be severely impacted by the changes.

“The proposed rules will pose significant barriers to homeschool students seeking to access our programs,” the letter reads in part. “… While we are committed to aligning our program with the proposed rules, Section 2.05 will eliminate alternative teacher-pupil instruction for grades other than six through twelve. This change … will eliminate public school programming used by thousands of Colorado students.”

Under the rule changes, “alternative instruction,” which includes “any instruction not meeting the definition of direct teacher-pupil instruction, including but not limited to independent study, work-study, internships, apprenticeships, blended learning, and supplemental online learning,” will no longer be funded for non, brick-and-mortar organizations such as CEC.

Legality of changes questioned

Specifically, according to a separate legal analysis done by Eric Hall, a Colorado Springs-based attorney, two changes violate current Colorado statutes.

“The proposed school finance rules stipulate that Instructional Time “does not include parent-led or parent-directed instruction,” Hall wrote in part. “These terms are defined as meaning the parent is substantially or primarily responsible for establishing the content of the required program of planned instruction and activities, selecting course curriculum, leading such instruction and activities, and/or directly evaluating student progress in the class.”

Hall uses the example that “even if there is a teacher of record communicating with the parent, it will still be parent-led or parent-directed if it meets the above definition,” therefore the program will not be funded.

However, Hall points out in his analysis that Colorado’s Home-Based Education Act explicitly authorizes that homeschool students may “attend a public school for a portion of the school day,” i.e., participate in part-time homeschool enrichment programs,” and “if they do, then public schools providing those programs ‘shall be entitled to count such child in accordance with the provisions of the Public School Finance Act and receive part-time funding.’”  Hall continues that “The Home-Based Education Act also requires that homeschooling parents must be ‘in charge and in control of’ the homeschooling program in order to be exempt from the compulsory school attendance law.'”

Hall points out in his analysis that online programs are governed under three separate state statutes: The Online Education Act, the Supplemental Online Education Grant Program, and the Empowering Digital Learning for All Act.

“The Online Act explicitly permits online schools and programs to offer supplemental online courses. Thus, both brick-and-mortar and online schools can offer supplemental online programs,” Hall writes.

The Supplemental Online Education Grant Program and the Empowering Digital Learning for All Act were both enacted through legislative actions to encourage the growth and expansion of supplemental online programs, according to Hall.

“It is in the best interests of the state to help small or rural school districts, charter schools, BOCES, and facility schools provide supplemental online education courses to their students by allowing these public schools to apply for grants to help them overcome their financial and technical barriers,” Hall said.

Changes pose ‘significant barriers’

It’s for all these reasons, CEC said in its letter, that the proposed rules will “pose significant barriers” to homeschooled students

“CEC currently serves approximately 2,300 homeschooled students through an online program,” CEC wrote. “By providing supplemental homeschool programs, we have engaged with students at a younger age, offering insights into the benefits of obtaining college credit at no cost to their families. This results in home school students enrolling full-time in the public school system much earlier than has been our experience.”

CEC also said the rules will adversely affect students concurrently taking college courses while in secondary school.

“As designated Early Colleges, our schools are designed to ensure that students graduate with both a high school diploma and an associate’s degree or postsecondary credential. The Proposed Rules mandate that students must enroll in a full college course load to receive full-time funding. However, this approach undermines the success of students who gradually transition to college courses while benefiting from CEC’s support.”

CEC is asking that the State Board of Education instruct the Colorado Department of Education staff to develop rules that prioritize the well-being of students and are grounded in research rather than jump to passing the new rules.

“As an institution committed to ensuring that ‘All Means All,’ CEC has consistently strived to provide exceptional educational opportunities to a diverse student population, irrespective of their backgrounds or skill levels,” CEC’s letter said.


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