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Creating Funding Options and Scaling Up
To increase participation and continue to help schools build their capacity, programs strive to offer affordable funding options. Most districts pay for students' participation in an online program as they would for any other service, by including the cost in the annual budget and creating a purchase order and account with the program in order to facilitate payment. In VHS's cooperative model, each school pays an annual membership fee, but costs are offset through each school committing teacher time to course design and delivery. Other programs offer "bulk rates" for student seats in courses.
At CTY, parents or schools pay student tuition; however, the program offers scholarships and financial aid to qualified students. In 2005–06, COL obtained grant funding and successfully advocated for legislation to provide reimbursement to small school districts based on each district's online enrollment for the 2006–07 school year. In 2007, instead of each district receiving funding through reimbursement, the legislature allocated $500,000 directly to COL. COL, in turn, intends to use the funding to reduce district costs for per-course enrollment. COL will continue to work with the legislature for future funding. In Florida, the legislature agreed to include FLVS in the state's per-pupil funding model, with funding based largely on successful course completions. Like many state university systems, both FLVS and MVS also have created out-of-state pricing to help sustain in-state program offerings.
MVS, CTY, VHS, and FLVS are all implementing strategic development plans to accommodate increasing district and student demand for on- line learning. One strategy is to acquire more advanced courses from third-party providers. VHS's cooperative model calls for recruiting more member schools, each of which, in turn, provides a teacher to develop and instruct the first section of an additional online course. Worth noting is that when the Michigan legislature made participation in at least one online course a high school graduation requirement, it also provided MVS with additional funding for course development to accommodate anticipated demand growth. When FLVS found that district requests for "seats" in key online courses was exceeding its ability to deliver, it adopted a franchise model through which a district uses its own teachers to deliver FLVS courses. Currently, eight Florida districts have a FLVS franchise. Courses, themselves, are at the heart of Web-based learning; but as has been shown throughout this section, courses are just one element of a successful online learning program.
|Figure 8. CTY's Online End-of-Course Evaluation Form (Excerpt)|
Scaling up is about more than just adding new titles or creating additional sections to popular courses. It also includes the very practical step of increasing support services, including, for example, the hours that computer labs are open and monitored. When it first started a distance learning program, one MVS school kept its computer lab open and staffed three hours a day, catering mainly to students who were taking online courses for credit-recovery purposes. But as word got out about the availability of online courses and demand grew for AP and elective courses, the school found itself needing to expand the hours of its computer lab to four, then five, and, most recently, six hours a day.
Chiefly, though, scaling up is about making sure there is adequate support for all involved—for students, for those individuals who offer direct support to these online learners (e.g., mentors, site coordinators), and for online instructors. As such, scaling up must be tied to continuous improvement efforts by both site and provider and is most effective when carried out in partnership between these two entities. MVS offers one example of what form this effort can take. Approximately 350 Michigan schools currently have students enrolled in MVS courses, and each year MVS hosts a conference for some 40 schools with the highest percentages of students taking online courses. At this gathering, schools are encouraged to reflect collaboratively on the online learning program they offer to their students in partnership with MVS. They discuss what aspects appear to have been most engaging and to have resulted in the greatest success for their students. They discuss and evaluate services they receive from MVS, such as mentor orientation and training. And, finally, they discuss any obstacles or problems that they or their students have encountered during the year. Schools and MVS alike emerge from the conference with new insights, solutions, and ideas about how to strengthen their programs as they reach out to serve ever greater numbers of students.