As enrollment in Franklin County Public Schools declines, homeschooling has been on the rise. The school district has been examining an alternative solution by adding an online program.
This would allow the district to increase its state subsidy because enrollment would increase in grades 6-12, which are the target grade levels for the online program.
Families would still be able to educate their children at home, on their schedules, but they would technically be Franklin County Public Schools students. Meanwhile, students’ opportunities also increase as they would be eligible to participate in extracurricular activities such as sports, band and clubs at the middle and high schools. Online students also could take career and technical education classes.
Students enrolled in the program would be required to take Standards of Learning tests before receiving a high school diploma from Franklin County High School.
Bringing homeschool students into the system — even if only virtually — is one way to bring enrollment figures back up.
The county has experienced declining enrollment in recent years. As the number of students enrolled in the county shrinks, so does the district’s funding from the state, which is tied to a measure known as average daily membership.
There are 457 homeschoolers in Franklin County this academic year, according to data collected by the Virginia Department of Education. Of those, 237 are students in grades 6-12. They would be eligible for the virtual school. An unexpected decrease of 29 students — for various reasons, not just homeschooling — led to a budget shortfall of about $400,000 this year.
The measure could be a win for both students and the district. Assistant Superintendent Sue Rogers said she had no plans to bring the proposal before the district due to a lack of interest in the program.
What reservations do parents have over a program like this? It seems like the best of both worlds. Students get more opportunities and the school is able to recoup some of its funding. What could be wrong with more opportunities for the students?
It’s worth noting that homeschool parents, like those in public schools as well as the remainder of the community, pay taxes to cover the cost of public education. They do this by paying state income taxes, some of which go to public schools. And they pay either directly in property taxes on their homes or indirectly with rent helping cover landlords’ property taxes. So if they’re helping pay the bills, why not get something in return?
More than a third of homeschool students are enrolled in online courses and a fourth take those classes in public school programs, according to federal data.
If those numbers played out in Franklin County, it would be a win-win for the school system and homeschoolers alike. The district needs about 50 students, or roughly 20 percent of those eligible, to enroll in the virtual school to cover the cost of offering it.
We commend school officials for exploring the option and urge homeschool parents and their children to take advantage.