Kentucky schools connect with homeschool kids via online courses

Linda Denny’s children, Olivia (15) and Matthew Denny (18), worked on schoolwork for their virtual classes last week.
Linda Denny’s children, Olivia (15) and Matthew Denny (18), worked on schoolwork for their virtual classes last week.

Wayne County Public Schools Assistant Superintendent Allen Clark is offering a deal to homeschool families: If a homeschool student is willing to enroll in the district taking online courses, the district will pay for the classes.

“We assign a teacher from our high school and they work with the child,” Clark said.

If the student passes the classes, which cost about $100 total, Wayne County can count them in its average daily attendance numbers and receive state funds — about $3200 per student, per school year, according to Clark.

About seven or eight of the district’s 75 homeschool students took him up on the offer in 2015-16, and he hopes that 15 to 20 students enroll for 2016-17.

Clark said it is worth the $100 investment, good for the student who can earn a high school diploma, and good for the district financially: “If you were a business person you would do that all day long,” he said.

Wayne County is among the Kentucky public school districts where officials now see virtual learning courses as a way to connect to homeschool students.

Harrison County Public Schools Assistant Superintendent David Case said district officials sent letters in June to the district’s approximately 100 homeschool students to see if they would be interested in enrolling in the district to take advantage of virtual learning. Case said district officials set a deadline for early July for responses and thought they might be able to gauge interest as early as Monday.

The Kentucky Department of Education is not specifically charged with collecting homeschool data from school districts. However, indirectly, as part of federal reporting required by school districts, some data is collected. Based on numbers from the 2015-16 school year, Kentucky Department of Education officials estimate there are 20,385 homeschool students in the state, said spokeswoman Nancy Rodriguez. The Massachusetts- based Coalition for Responsible Home Education offers on its website a “rough estimate” of homeschool students in Kentucky of between 22,000 and 29,000.

According to information from the Kentucky Department of Education, a homeschool student is one whom the family has withdrawn from public school or has never enrolled and has chosen instead to educate in a home setting. The Kentucky Constitution says parents may choose the formal education for their child. Over 30 years ago, the Kentucky Supreme Court determined that the Kentucky Department of Education can’t prescribe standards for homeschooling.

Under Kentucky law, parents of children who are homeschooled have to keep records and notify the superintendent of the local school board in writing of their intent to homeschool their child each year. The letter must include the name, ages and residence of each child in attendance at the homeschool.

Fayette County Public School officials received notification from parents that 1,253 students were being homeschooled in 2015-16, said Sharon Pearson, who works in the Pupil Personnel office.

Fayette spokeswoman Lisa Deffendall said the district does not offer virtual classes for students who are being homeschooled.

But Linda Denny, a parent who helps lead Bluegrass Homeschool Learning Co-operative, Inc. in Lexington, said that she and at least one other parent in Fayette County are taking advantage of virtual learning programs offered by another Kentucky public school district.

Denny homeschools her teens, Matthew, 18, and Olivia, 15, at their Lexington home, but their curriculum includes virtual learning courses that Barren County School district offers in a program called BAVEL, the Barren Academy of Virtual and Expanded Learning. Teachers are assigned to help students.

Denny said she pays fees for the classes. The BAVEL program does not require her children to enroll in the district. She said they could get a public school diploma through the program, but have decided not to pursue that option.

Denny said she especially likes what the math and science courses offer her children. The curriculum is demanding, she said.

“The requirements of the virtual program is pretty intensive,” said Denny. “That makes for probably more projects and papers than they would be doing in a regular public school.”

Valarie Honeycutt Spears: 859-231-3409, @vhspears