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Interest in online schooling and homeschooling increases during pandemic

According to data from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, the amount of families intending to homeschool increased compared to last year
Published: Sep. 14, 2020 at 6:00 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - While many schools throughout southwestern Wisconsin are able to start the school year in person, not all students and families are opting to head back to the classroom. While some families are opting to learn online for at least the beginning of the school year, others are turning to options like schools that are entirely virtual, or homeschooling.

For example, according to the Dodgeville School District in Iowa County, about a third of their families opted for virtual learning. In Rock County, about 2700 students in the Janesville School District chose virtual learning as well, according to the district.

For students and teachers at Destinations Career Academy of Wisconsin, school is always all online.

Pat Acker is a business education teacher and career readiness coordinator with Destinations Career Academy of Wisconsin. Acker described the school as an online public charter school serving students throughout the state. Acker said the career academy also has four career clusters/ pathways for students in the areas of IT, business, healthcare, and heavy machinery operation.

“I think the greatest thing I can say as a teacher now going on my ninth year in this environment, effective education does happen,” he said.

Acker said over the summer as families waited for school boards to make decisions about the return to class, interest in the career academy spiked.

“I know there’s been a very significant increase,” Acker said. “That’s fairly normal in general for virtual schools, we tend to have later adds than say compared to a traditional school, especially since we’re statewide. But this year, as you can guess, certainly it seems to be quite significant.”

Acker said for students who will be learning virtually for the first time this fall, there will be a transition.

“Finding that balance between yes - flexibility is a good thing, it can be to your advantage, but within that or as part of that, a routine and a schedule,” he said. “That’s a big part of the learning curve.”

Acker also suggested getting familiar with the technology, as well as reaching out to teachers to form those connections and relationships.

For 16-year-old Riley Quigley, a junior at Destinations Career Academy of Wisconsin, leaving brick and mortar high school to attend school online was a way to reduce distractions in the classroom.

“More of a personalized learning environment where it’s easier for teachers to be one on one with students,” Quigley said. “Pretty much allowing me to work more at my own pace.”

Quigley, who lives in Green Bay, also recommended students and families establish a routine as they embark on virtual learning.

“Setting up a specific environment for schooling as well as making sure to stay on top of checking my schedule, keeping my homework in check, getting used to doing it myself,” Quigley said.

Another option for families is homeschooling. Data from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction shows an increase in interest in homeschooling this school year compared to previous years.

According to DPI, parents and families fill out and file PI-1206 forms to express their intent to homeschool for the coming year. For the 2018-2019 school year, from July 1 to Aug. 31, 2,261 families filed PI-1206 forms for a total of 3,913 kids. Last year in that same window, 2,410 families filed for 4,053 kids. This school year, that number jumped to 4,608 families filing, for a total of 7,735 kids.

On their website, the DPI addresses the question: “What happens to the funding my school district receives for my child?” with the following statement: “In Wisconsin, public school districts receive most of their funding from state aid and the property tax. State equalization aid is distributed to school districts based, in part, on the number of students enrolled in the public schools on certain dates during the school year. Since a homeschooled student is not enrolled in a public school, the child’s resident school district is not permitted to include him/her in its membership count for purposes of claiming state aid. Thus, there are no state funds allocated to your school district on behalf of your child. The same is true of property taxes to support school districts.”

DPI said total enrollment figures are typically calculated the third Friday of September, and are not usually reported by districts until about a month after. DPI said this year’s enrollment information will not be approved or certified until early 2021.

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