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Virtual School Advocates Seize Opportunity To Voice Funding Frustrations, Parent Sues SBOE

By Jeanie Lindsay, IPB News | Published on in Education, Government, Law, Technology
Many schools have had students learning online more than half the time because of the pandemic, which would normally trigger a state law that limits per-pupil funding. (Lauren Chapman/IPB News)
Many schools have had students learning online more than half the time because of the pandemic, which would normally trigger a state law that limits per-pupil funding. (Lauren Chapman/IPB News)

An Indianapolis parent is suing the State Board of Education after it changed a policy to ensure full funding for students learning remotely because of COVID-19. It’s part of an ongoing advocacy effort by parents who want virtual schools funded at the same level as brick-and-mortar schools.

Virtual schools get 15 percent less funding per student than in-person schools in Indiana, and the state has been working to circumvent that law and preserve full funding for schools using virtual learning because of the pandemic.

But advocates for virtual schools, including parent Letrisha Weber, are frustrated there’s a difference at all.

“It’s really sad that so many students are left with a smaller budget simply because they’ve chosen a school that works better for them,” she said.

Weber is suing the state board for what she calls an “overreach” in its authority, after it ensured full funding for traditional schools during the pandemic last fall – and didn’t extend full funding to dedicated virtual schools, too. She has two children enrolled in dedicated virtual schools.

The lawsuit’s path forward is unclear. But Weber says she wants to draw attention to the impact that different funding levels have on virtual school students and fair policymaking, not take money away from traditionally in-person schools.

“The goal ultimately is to make sure that students that choose virtual – and chose it before the pandemic ever happened – have equal funding to give them the same opportunities that brick-and-mortar schools have,” she said.

Legislative leaders said Thursday there is interest from lawmakers in increasing virtual school funding levels. It comes after virtual school advocates showed up in multiple hearings on legislation working around the 15 percent rule. The General Assembly made the change in 2019, before it was revealed two virtual charter schools faked their enrollment – stealing millions of dollars in state funding.

Meanwhile, lawmakers are continuing to fast-track the virtual funding legislation that would align state law with the board’s decision.

The House approved its version of the virtual school funding bill earlier this week, with a Senate panel approving its version of the measure in a public hearing Thursday.

This story has been updated.

Contact reporter Jeanie at jlindsa@iu.edu or follow her on Twitter at @jeanjeanielindz.