State law splits funding based on the time a student spends between online and brick-and-mortar schools. So, when a student in a traditional school district opts to take an online course from an outside provider, that student’s home district must share a portion of the state funding for that student.
That makes sense intuitively — until it comes to summer classes, when the state effectively pays for online providers to offer free summer school, but not school districts, said Chris Kotterman, director of policy development and government relations with the Arizona Department of Education.
School officials call the practice unfair and say it makes it difficult for them to compete. It also creates a situation where a district may end up educating two students for the same amount of time during the school year but receive less funding for one student simply because he or she took an online class outside of the district.
How often this happens statewide is difficult to peg. About 42,425 Arizona students took at least one online course in the 2011-12 school year, but the state does not track how many of those students were enrolled in online and traditional schools.