Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Our education plans for 2011/2012

[The kids are outside at "recess," I am caught up with my work for the moment, and it's quiet inside. Perfect time for a blog post!]

I haven't posted about our plans for next school year. It's somewhat controversial in the homeschool world to do what we're doing, but we are really excited. What's the worse that can happen? We un-enroll our kids and go on with our regular homeschooling program!

Next year our kids will be "attending" Epic Charter School. Next school year will be the first year the school is open. It is a public charter school with a fairly unique program. Our children will technically be enrolled in public school, but will be educated by me, from home. That's not such a novel idea. Virtual public schools have been around for a while. The novelty is in choices you have with Epic.

Each student has a "student learning fund." These are basically the tax dollars the public school is given for each student in attendance. The SLF for each child is $1000 (more if special needs). As the parent, I will choose how to spend that $1000 for each of my kids' education. How, you say?

Epic partners with the curriculum providers. The providers give Epic a group discount, so we don't end up spending the same amount for the program as we would if we were buying it individually. For instance, Bob Jones curriculum will not cost the $1000 it normally costs buyers. It will be a fraction of that amount. [We don't know the prices yet--but in the next 30 days we'll get a list.] If Epic doesn't have a partnership with a program we would like our child to have, Epic will gladly try to work out a deal with that curriculum provider. [They have proven that they really will do this--it's not just talk.]

Not only can we use our kids' fund on core curriculum, but also extra-curricular activities like homeschool choir, baseball, or art classes. In addition, we can use our kids' fund for technology needs such as internet, computers, or printers. Within each family, if one child uses more than $1000 and another child's costs are much less, you can use the sibling's extra funds to cover the other sibling's extra funding needs.

What's the catch? There are a few. First, this is considered PUBLIC education. At this point Epic has laid to rest our concerns about the "teacher" being over-involved. We do not have to send in student sample work. We do not have to meet with a teacher in person (although there is an option to do that). We do not have to take any advice a teacher gives us. We do not have to make a certain amount of progress within a pre-set "goal period." Second catch is that the curriculum we choose has to be based online. There has to be some online component so that the school can monitor progress. The program we choose may have books as well as online learning. We can choose all sorts of extra supplements that aren't online at all. But the "spine" must be online. Finally, we can only choose a curriculum that is willing to partner with Epic. Some parents wanted K12 curriculum, but K12 did not want to partner with Epic, so we can't use K12 (for instance).

How are we able to use a Christian curriculum with state tax dollars? I can't quote you the law and the loophole, but as long as the PARENT requests the curriculum, we can use Christian curriculum. Epic cannot instigate a partnership with a Christian provider on their own, but if a parent makes a specific request, they can then approach the provider. They cannot list the Christian options on the website either. Parents must ask specifically for the Christian choices. So far, we know that there are partnerships with Bob Jones, Abeka, and SOS, as well as a Mormon program.

As I said at the top, there is a LOT of controversy surrounding this subject in the homeschooling community. Some homeschoolers are convinced that these public funded schools from home are meant to "trick" families into giving up their right to homeschool their children. They are convinced that the virtual schools are only trying to get back tax dollars lost when kids are educated at home. It's so bad that folks doing this type of program often feel like they have to hide that fact, so that they are not shunned by the larger homeschooling community. Hello?! If the homeschooling community is all about a parent's right to choose the best education for their child, then WHY are traditional homeschoolers so against this? I'm sorry, but my allegiance is to my children--coming up with the very best educational plan for them. My allegiance is not to the homeschooling community. I don't think I'm putting someone's right to homeschool at risk by choosing this option for my family.

I promise, nothing as been pulled over my head. I'm not giving in to any sort of pressure. Through Epic I have the choice of several curriculum providers that I could not pay for on my own, and I have all of the benefits of public education. I get to put my own tax dollars to use! My kids' extra activities can be paid for with the student learning fund. My kids can even go to the public school P.E., Music., and Art classes if we wish! In high school they can be in the local marching band or on the football team. If one of my children should need an IEP, they can receive all of the public funded therapies they need for free through this program. As a parent, if I need extra help, I've got a teacher to call on for extra ideas. At the end of the day, my kids end up with a public school high school diploma (which for us, is a bonus).

So! That's it! This is why I've been asking about various homeschool programs on the blog. I have not previously been in a position to consider the more expensive programs, but through Epic those are a possibility (as long as there is an online component). There is so much choice through this program that I'm afraid I'll miss a great option! So if you know of a great homeschooling program (with at least some online/video component) please let me know about it!

P.S. All four children will be doing this next year--even little Kendi in pre-K. =-)


Kait 1:23 PM  

I think it's awesome that you've dedicated so much time to figuring out the very best education plan for your kids. In the end, isn't that what's important?

exmish 2:21 PM  

I've never heard of Epic before. Is it just an OK thing? (I'm trying to understand where they get the $1000 per pupil - their website makes it sound like it's a nationwide thing, but the property tax part would make me think otherwise).

You and Eric are the only ones who have stewardship over what's right for your family and the kids' education - no one else can or should tell you that you're "doing it wrong". No one knows those kiddos better than you! :)

A. Gillispie 2:25 PM  

I think Epic has schools in others states as well, but what I know about is their program in Oklahoma. The program we're doing is an Oklahoma thing, but similar programs are popping up nation wide!

Rose M. Welch 3:38 PM  

It's so bad that folks doing this type of program often feel like they have to hide that fact, so that they are not shunned by the larger homeschooling community. Hello?! If the homeschooling community is all about a parent's right to choose the best education for their child, then WHY are traditional homeschoolers so against this?

This, EXACTLY! Some of the local families act like I'm throwing my kids off of a bridge, and they've even banned the mere mention of these options on our local homeschooling list. Isn't that crazy?

As for the funds, $1,000 is the minimum that Epic will receive for each child from the state. If you child is weighted more heavily, then Epic would receive more funds, which would go toward paying the teachers, building costs, etc. :)

Christy 4:22 PM  

This sounds like an awesome opportunity for your children to get the best of both worlds...home education with the availability of public school extra-curricular activities. I wish NY would create something like this...it's exactly what I've been looking for!

Best wishes!!

Claire 9:08 PM  

That sounds awesome! I read your whole post to my husband...we wish we had that in our state. We may be trying out K12 next year for our kids, which would also be a publc charter school for us. It is not as flexible though. I also was surprised by the vey negative responses that I've gotten from homeschoolers about the online charter schools.

Charissa 9:58 PM  

This is so interesting. I've never heard of this before. I hope you'll keep blogging about it! I've got lots of questions!

Mama D.'s Dozen 11:24 PM  

So glad that you have found a program that looks like a good fit for your family. THAT is what homeschooling is all about. :)

I actually created and founded a similar program here in WA. Oh my! You'd of thought I made a personal pact with the enemy, by the way the "traditional" homeschoolers talked about me. A letter was even sent around our small farming community, questioning my faith. It was sooo.... sad.

I ran the school for 5 years. We ended up with 185 students and 20 staff members. It was a wonderful program ... until some darn district politics got involved. After 5 years, we were done ... our school superintendent was fired ... I was fired ... but, it was a GOOD thing while it lasted.

Wishing you the BEST with this new program.

Laurel :)

Spike and Tuna Jones 3:02 PM  

Good for you! Here are two links to great charters. We belonged to the first until we left California. Our kids benefitted greatly from the money: art classes, Spanish instruction privately, ski lessons, and music lessons. I bought most of our core curriculum because the extras I was not able to teach were oh so important to me. here is the link: http://horizoncharterschool.org/?Obj=AboutUs&MenuID=607&Clear=Yes

The second charter is one we are involved in now. TCA is amazing! so many options. Our 11th grader is in college full time through this school option with the state paying for each and every class.. thank you Colorado. Our 6th grader will be enrolled in the fall and take classes 2 days a week on campus and the rest at home. here is that link: http://collegepathways.org/

The beauty of education is choices. Don't let anyone tell you which choice is right for you. No guilt!

JenniferK 9:08 AM  

What a great opportunity!! We homeschooled our five for the last 8+ years until this year when we sent them all to a local charter school, and it has been GREAT for them, but now the older two are going into high school (the charter school only goes to 8th grade) and I am looking into a similar program to yours in our state. Not nearly so many options, though - that looks excellent! :)