In February 2018 the BC Ministry of Education appointed a seven-member panel to review and provide recommendations for changes to the funding model for public K-12 education in the province. The panel’s report to the Ministry, released in December 2018 and published on the government website, has implications for how online learning (distributed learning) programs are funded in the province. The Ministry is now seeking input on the recommendations from parents, teachers, support staff, administrators, and others prior to formalizing changes.
The funding review report makes twenty-two recommendations with the following having a direct impact on distributed learning in the province:
The Ministry should base funding allocations for school age education programming on the number of students, rather than on the number of courses being taken. The Ministry should phase out the current course-based funding model by the 2020/2021 school year.
With the shift to a per-student-based funding model, the Ministry should develop a new policy and program delivery model for Distributed Learning to ensure consistent access to quality programming for all students in the province.
Read as a whole, the report seems to be suggesting that distributed learning should be funded at the same level as brick-and-mortar schooling, the same recommendation made in the State of the Nation: K-12 e-Learning in Canada research report on the funding of distributed learning in Canada. That is not the case currently. During the 2017-18 school year, the basic allocation school-age equivalent (i.e., FTE) for students attending a brick-and-mortar school was $7,301 (or $-912.62/course), while only $6,100 (or $-762.509/course) for a student attending a distributed learning school. So, with funding for distributed learning less than brick and mortar, will the recommendations see an increase in funding for distributed learning schools?
Research conducted for the annual State of the Nation: K-12 e-Learning in Canada report continues to report British Columbia with the highest level of reported distance and online learning activity in the country and, on a per capita basis, with the largest number of students engaged in online courses. It can be argued that this level of activity is a direct result of the current per-course funding model at the secondary level, and that one of the drivers for the development of distributed learning programs in the province has been the revenue school districts generate from signing up students to online courses.
The funding review report also hints at quality issues in the online programs, stating that “DL [distributed learning] is being delivered differently across the province with some school districts operating their DL programs in a blended manner, focusing on students ‘in-district’, while others operate provincial programs for a variety of reasons including revenue generation” (p.26). The report goes on to state that distributed learning programming “needs to consider the educational changes underway within the sector, students’ preferences with respect to when, where, and how they learn, and the need to ensure that all students have access to a quality educational program regardless of where they live” (p.26). While standards for distributed learning programs in the province have been set and there is a quality review process in place for programs, the report seems to be pointing to not only changes in how the online programs are funded, but also for how they are being operated.
It will be interesting to see what the final funding changes will be and their implications for online learning programs in the province. We will continue to monitor these changes and report on them in the State of the Nation: K-12 e-Learning in Canada reports as well as post updates here.