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Online charter school a good move for Crook County . . . for now

When the Crook County School Board voted unanimously to approve the Insight On-line Charter School at the most recent school board meeting, they took a giant step toward providing students and their parents with educational options.
   Although the charter school is not the only online school in Oregon, it is one of the first virtual charter schools. Insight is part of the K-12 family of on-line schools, which is one of the largest on-line schools in the nation. By tapping into their expertise, students in Crook County stand to gain access to a wider range of course offerings.
   Virtual charter schools are likely to take off in Oregon due to educational reforms passed by the 2012 Oregon State Legislature. By getting in on the ground floor, the Crook County School District has positioned itself on the leading edge of what looks like a promising trend.
   The program could theoretically attract students from anywhere in Oregon and seems to be an ideal option for place-bound students, students from remote areas, or for homeschoolers who are looking for a more structured curriculum.
   Unfortunately, when the Oregon State Legislature implemented the reforms, they chose to not allow a student to enroll part time in a virtual charter school and part time in their local district. Had that option been available, the program would have been ideal for students who wished to take classes such as industrial arts, music, art, or physical education in the classroom while taking classes not offered by the district online. Had the legislature seen fit to provide that option, we would whole-heartedly endorse the new virtual school.
   We believe that the charter school will fill a need for a select group of students and is good for the students of Crook County as a whole. However, the program as currently administered is not without pitfalls.
   When a grade school student in Oregon enrolls in a charter school, 80 percent of their state funding goes to the charter school and only 20 percent goes to the school district. When a middle school or high school student enrolls in a charter school, the portion of state funding going to the charter school jumps from 80 percent to 95 percent. That means that for every in-district student that enrolls in the charter school, the district would need approximately 18 out-of-district students to enroll in the program in order to not see a drop in state funding. Crook County students who choose to register for the program will still be provided with one class per term in an actual classroom. In order to ensure the financial health of a school district, no more than 3 percent of a district’s students will be allowed to enroll in a virtual school.
   If students from outside of the Crook County School District sign up for the program, then the school district will receive a portion of state funding for that student. If the district can attract a sizeable number of out-of-district students with the new offerings, then that could benefit the district financially. By contrast, if most of the students signing up for the program come from within the Crook County School District, the program could end up costing the district funding.
   We may need to wait for several years before the full economic impact of the new program becomes clear. In the meantime, what is clear is that the Crook County School District has taken a bold step that appears to be in the best interest of students in the district.