High school students interested in taking online classes offered through the West Virginia Department of Education’s Virtual School program this year will need to sign up by Tuesday or find another way to pay for their courses.
With money running out for the online school program, which pays for students to take classes through private education companies online, state officials have had to set an earlier deadline for final enrollment this year.
The advanced signup date, two months earlier than last year, is meant to identify enrollment numbers and possible budgetary shortfalls in the program, which offers advanced placement and previously-unavailable classes to students throughout the state.
But some parents are concerned the quickly approaching deadline could delay certain students from receiving credit for online classes that require them to pass one course before signing up for a second, unless county school boards can cover the cost of the additional courses this spring.
The Department of Education budgets around $1 million annually for the virtual courses, but state officials said increased enrollment in the program has limited the number of courses the department can pay for in the final months of this school year.
As a result, the state agency has had to move up the final enrollment date to ensure that enough money exists for students who sign up on time.
In the past year, the number of students taking classes online has increased dramatically, according to the Department of Education.
During the 2013-2014 school year, students signed up for 3,687 courses. By this year, that number had increased to 5,017, causing funds to run low sooner than expected.
Liza Cordeiro, the director of communications for the Department of Education, said they established the earlier deadline as a result of those “funding constraints.”
Cordeiro said the Department of Education has promised that funding will be available for students who are currently enrolled in courses, but said students will be unable to sign up for additional classes this spring unless they are finished with around 90 percent of their existing online coursework by March 31.
After that date, students wishing to enroll in online courses would either need to pay out of pocket or ask their local board of education to cover the cost.
But for parents like Randy Short, the father of a Hurricane High School junior, the new deadline seems unfair.
Short, whose daughter Abigail has enrolled in seven virtual courses this school year, said the deadline could effectively bar his daughter and other students from receiving credit for two-part courses that they had planned to finish this school year.
Short said his daughter didn’t start many of her online courses until February as a result of a later start date and some delays in setting up the online account, giving her less than two months to finish the courses she is currently enrolled in.
With the March deadline looming, Short said his daughter may not be able to finish the first portion of some classes in time to sign up for the second.
Cordeiro said the Department of Education has done everything it can to find funding for the students who are eligible to enroll in new courses by the last day in March, and that even if students miss the March deadline, they can finish the second half of their two-part courses when more funding becomes available in August.
But Short said additional funding in August isn’t going to help his daughter, who would have to take an unnecessary number of courses next year just to catch up.
“She’s going to have to double up to get to where she would have been,” Short said.
Short said he hopes to speak with the Putnam County Board of Education to see if they would be willing to cover the cost of the online courses for his daughter if she doesn’t meet the March enrollment deadline.
But while the advanced deadline has frustrated some, Cordeiro said everyone knew that the program’s timeframe was based on the amount of funding that was available, and that an application deadline had to be set.
While Short understands that budgets are tight, he said the state should make it a priority to find additional money to cover the cost of courses that students had already planned to take this year.
Short said he appreciates the state’s efforts to provide online courses that would otherwise be unavailable to his daughter, but the establishment of the early enrollment deadline has him questioning whether to have his daughter sign up for more online classes next year.
“I would be very wary that it would happen again,” he said.
Reach Andrew Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org, 304-348-4814 or follow @Andy_Ed_Brown on Twitter.