iLEAD Online Works to Accommodate Increased Demand Due to Pandemic
Students often switch schools between academic years, but the summer of 2020 is unique. The COVID-19 pandemic has directly and indirectly forced an uptick in student transfers. One noticeable trend has been an increased interest in online programs.
The quality of virtual, digital and remote learning at the end of the 2019-20 school year varied among schools. As a result, many families are considering leaving their neighborhood schools for online schools that have an established success rate. One such program feeling this effect is iLEAD Online Charter School.
Erin Jones, director of iLEAD Online, said enrollment at the school often increases in the spring and summer, but this year is different. Traditionally, Jones said, many learners seek an online school that begins the academic year in the summer due to interest in advancement, enrichment or credit recovery. However, Jones said that in addition to the normal summer enrollment growth, iLEAD Online is also experiencing an increased demand for fall enrollment.
“We have families contacting us all day every day about their uncertainty,” said Jones. “They need more learning options during this time.”
Normally, Jones said her program and others are able to accommodate the increased enrollment, even though they often don’t receive full funding. But this year, due to a recent state legislative move, funding is challenged further in that schools are being compensated only for their enrollment numbers as of February 2020. Therefore, any schools that grow will not, as of this time, see any increased funding in order to support new enrollees, for example by hiring new staff and providing needed technology.
This recent legislation is part of SB98 passed on June 29, 2020. iLEAD Online began their Track C school year July 1, 2020, with double the enrollment from the previous year. iLEAD Online enrollment had already increased by over 70 students for the 2019-20 school year after the annual attendance funding was frozen in February of 2020. In addition to the typical growth in enrollment, iLEAD Online has also expanded to offer grades K-2 for the 2020-21 school year. Jones said they are accustomed to carrying the additional load initially until funding typically catches up for the start of the next school year. “Funding has always followed the students,” said Jones. But with the legislature delaying that and also failing to account for incoming kindergarteners in their legislation, Jones said it has caused a huge ripple effect. Over 400 new learners and families are waiting to be able to enroll for the fall.
Additionally, according to Jones, a large number of families previously enrolled in private schools are now seeking tuition-free schools like iLEAD Online. Amid the pandemic, some families have not been able to afford private schools because of their own recent employment and financial challenges, and some private schools have had to shut their doors.
All of this has left Jones and her team at iLEAD Online in a precarious place. They want to serve their returning learners effectively, and they don’t want to turn new families away.
“We have been left in a chaotic situation, but we would never back away from learners who already enrolled and started. They are our number-one priority,” Jones said.
The team at iLEAD Online, as well as parents and other advocates have been reaching out to their legislators and other organizations, lobbying for the legislature to revisit SB98 and reconsider how this funding model is hurting both schools and families.
This issue affects charter and choice schools in general. Dawn Evenson, founder and CEO of iLEAD Schools, said this shouldn’t be a partisan or political issue. “Families who’ve been displaced or had to move won’t be able to get into their particular school program of choice,” Evenson said. “This is a direct assault on parent choice.”
In response to the current legislation, a group of charter schools in California just filed a lawsuit against the state. You can read more about this here. It remains unknown if the legislature will make changes to address these latest educational demands.
For those interested in restoring per-pupil funding for all learners in all growing public schools, there is a Move On Petition that can be signed online.