Online Course-Level Funding: Toward Colorado Secondary Self-Blended Learning Options

IP-4-2012 (May 2012)
Author: Ben DeGrow

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Executive Summary
Many Colorado secondary students may benefit from greater opportunity to take a number of traditional face-to-face classes and digital courses simultaneously. Students’ ability to “self-blend” courses in this manner is hampered by school district control of per-pupil funding and course options. Following the national Digital Learning Council’s guidelines, Colorado should alter the K-12 education funding system to enable greater student access to effective online course options.

State tax dollars make up the largest share of Colorado’s K-12 funding, including the School Finance Act’s Per-Pupil Revenue (PPR) formula, various categorical programs, and school construction grants. Personnel policies and central programs largely dictate how education dollars flow through district offices to individual learning sites. Students enrolled full-time in a multi-district online program receive less PPR than traditional district students. Students enrolled full-time in a single-district online program bring in the same PPR as a full-time brick-and-mortar student. Even in cases where students can access courses through an outside provider, district authority narrows the available field of providers. Colorado Online, the state’s largest supplemental online provider, receives a line-item subsidy from the legislature in addition to individual course enrollment fees from districts.

A few states have enacted funding systems that allow secondary students to customize course-level learning–including Florida, Minnesota and Idaho. Utah’s new Statewide Online Education Program provides the best example of student-driven, course-level blended learning. A similar system could operate effectively in Colorado as follows:

  • Funds should be distributed to schools based on multiple count dates rather the current single October 1 enrollment count, using school membership rather than attendance;
  • Dollars should be divided beyond full-time and part-time to reach the course level, using a tiered funding structure to differentiate costs based on course content;
  • PPR and categorical funds should be combined and allotted to individual K-12 students, weighted according to need, and directed to their chosen school and/or courses; and
  • At least 50 percent of funding should be given to providers only after successful course completion, with bonuses contemplated for measurable excellent achievement.

To balance concerns, the state also should contract with an outside entity to monitor and report on course and provider outcomes. Two significant barriers to a student-centered, course-level funding system are the lack of common course testing measurements and concerns about how to “share” accountability for a student’s performance. While specific solutions to these challenges lie outside the scope of this paper, the new funding system would align with efforts to shift much of the accountability burden from input-based demands to standard, transparent performance measures and market-based quality control.

To win support for significant statewide changes, a cross-section of 10 or more school districts could be selected to pilot the program locally. Yet regardless of how rapidly it is implemented, Colorado needs to empower students to direct funds among numerous effective course options to help fulfill the potential of blended learning and to unleash new opportunities to improve students’ academic development.


Posted by ben on May 16th, 2012 and filed under Issue Papers, K-12 Funding, Online Education. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response by filling following comment form or trackback to this entry from your site

20 Responses for “Online Course-Level Funding: Toward Colorado Secondary Self-Blended Learning Options”

  1. [...] incredible timing to share a brand-new issue paper from my Education Policy Center friends titled Online Course-Level Funding: Toward Colorado Secondary Self-Blended Learning Options. It’s about following the lead of states like Utah and Florida to give students more freedom [...]

  2. [...] education policy analyst Ben DeGrow explains the themes and proposals in his new report Online Course-Level Funding. He and Education Policy Center director Pam Benigno discuss how Colorado’s current school [...]

  3. [...] last month, Online Course-Level Funding: Toward Colorado Secondary Self-Blended Learning Options promotes dramatic changes to how Colorado finances student learning success, including [...]

  4. [...] you want to go more in depth, you really ought to read the new Education Policy Center report on Online Course-Level Funding to see some specific solutions that would help fund student learning success in [...]

  5. [...] that train teachers and for giving high school students more curricular choices (I wonder if a course-level funding system that supports blended learning would fit her [...]

  6. [...] Two of the Partnership’s principles state that “low-performing districts should come under more oversight than high-performing districts,” and “the State Education Funding System should provide districts and schools with as much fiscal flexibility as possible to meet educational outcomes,” which together represent a nod toward commonsense incentives that encourage excellence. However, the wording causes concern that funds still will be locked primarily into district control rather than following the student to the school, much less to the course level. [...]

  7. [...] why not open up their choices to other digital providers? For one thing (a fairly big thing), our state’s K-12 funding system needs some serious changes to make that range of quality choices [...]

  8. [...] like those proposed in the Independence Institute’s issue paper “Online Course-Level Funding” would open wide the doors of student access to high-quality instruction and content through broad [...]

  9. [...] And I definitely agree there is hope to fix it. One of the things Colorado needs to do is recreate a school funding system that attaches funds directly to students, funds that will follow them to the school and course level. [...]

  10. [...] needed to refer a tax measure to the fall ballot. I was glad to hear him express openness to some outside-the-box reform ideas shared at our Dec. 6 “Financing Student Success” panel event. Let funding follow students [...]

  11. [...] But at least as important, if legislators adopt the “Grand Bargain” of tying school finance reforms to a $1 billion statewide tax hike proposal, we should be talking about truly tying funds to students in the schools and courses they choose. [...]

  12. [...] choice,” as well? There is more in-depth insight to be gleaned into how Colorado can update the state’s school finance system to support this kind of liberating [...]

  13. [...] But at least as important, if legislators adopt the “Grand Bargain” of tying school finance reforms to a $1 billion statewide tax hike proposal, we should be talking about truly tying funds to students in the schools and courses they choose. [...]

  14. [...] change to the student count remains in the bill (just one of the needed reforms), but there is no true backpack funding beyond small amounts of money tied to poor and English [...]

  15. [...] than rigid old seat-time rules. Now we have someone besides Utah to model after, in pursuit of student self-blended learning options. Part of Colorado’s own digital learning policy road map and all that, [...]

  16. [...] policy? We’re still waiting to update the student count system, not to mention enacting course-level funding or developing competency-based tests and accountability [...]

  17. [...] two years ago now, my senior education policy analyst buddy wrote a paper calling for Colorado to adopt a system of course-level funding. Back then, Utah was the pioneer model for creating such a system to offer students more [...]

  18. [...] Policy Road Map facilitated by my Education Policy Center friends. It got even more attention in an issue paper they published touting how an idea Utah set in motion could also come to life and help students [...]

  19. [...] that a couple years ago my Education Policy Center friend Ben DeGrow put together an issue paper introducing the idea of course-level funding to Colorado. The report explored a few of the nooks and crannies to consider in creating such an effective, [...]

  20. [...] concession, one that fits with the course-level funding model my Education Policy Center friends proposed way back in 2012. We’ll get there eventually, hopefully [...]

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