|Distributed Learning Funding in British Columbia
Tim Winkelmans – e-Learning Programs Unit, British Columbia Ministry of Education
To implement the distributed learning system described elsewhere in this publication, British Columbia also needed to create a funding mechanism that would both support choice and provide public Boards of Education with the financial resources to meet the province’s Standards for Distributed Learning. Planning for the new funding model also needed to consider the following factors:
- Continuous enrolment, rather than a single annual snapshot
- Actual attendance to initiate an enrolment claim, rather than simple enrolment
- Shift to course-based funding, beginning in grade 10
- Legislation and associated court rulings that make it illegal for boards to charge tuition fees for any portion of a programme leading to secondary school graduation (i.e., boards and public schools cannot require students or parents to pay tuition fees for online programmes or courses)
The School Act creates a distinction between the choices available to students below grade 10 and to students in grade 10 or higher. Below grade 10, a student may only enroll in one place, including a full programme provided through a distributed learning school. If students in grade 10 or higher enroll in courses in a distributed learning school, they may also enroll for courses at a neighbourhood school—i.e., concurrent enrolments, which are referred to as “duplicate enrolments” or “cross-enrolments,” are permitted.
British Columbia’s school system claims three other features that assisted in implementing the funding strategy. First, school taxes are based on local property assessments, collected provincially, and redistributed to school boards according to formulas that incorporate a basic allocation for each student and additional supplements for unique student needs, geographic factors, and other special context-dependent factors. Second, every student in the province has a unique Personal Education Number (PEN) that accompanies each enrolment claim, allowing the Ministry of Education to allocate funding for a student to the one or more schools in which the student is enrolled. Third, the course-based funding model used to support grades 10 to 12 students does not generally impose a limit on the number of courses for which a student can be funded. Although a Full-time Equivalent (FTE) equates to eight full-year courses, a student taking a full slate of eight courses in the timetable along with Fine Arts or Trades courses outside the timetable may generate more than one FTE in funding. Thus, a grade 11 student cross-enrolled in eight courses in a neighbourhood school and two courses at a distributed learning school will generate one FTE funding unit for the former and 0.25 FTE funding for the latter. If all 10 courses were taken at the same school, the funding allocation would still be 1.25 FTEs, but it would be going to only one school or board.
The basic allocation for a distributed learning FTE is $5,851. The single course allocation of 0.125 FTE is just over $731. The allocation for adults who have not yet graduated is a little lower, at $4,430 per FTE or almost $554 per course. In addition, boards cannot claim the supplements for adult students. The Operating Grants Manual that gives the allocation details for the current school year is available online at http://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/education-training/administration/resource-management/k-12-funding-and-allocation/operating-grants.
Attendance Means Active
For distributed learning students, attendance in a programme is not demonstrated through seat-time requirements. Instead, the Distributed Learning Active Policy outlines several kinds of evidence that a school must collect to document participation in the programme or course. For students in Kindergarten through grade 9, the evidence includes a learning plan (e.g., detailed programme outline) and evidence of student work as described in the plan. For students in grade 10 or higher, the required evidence for each course claim is:
- a learning plan leading to graduation (e.g., course selection form);
Prior to implementing the current funding model, the Ministry engaged in discussions with distributed learning schools about enrolment patterns. From these conversations, the Ministry learned that there was significant back and forth movement of younger students between neighbourhood schools and distributed learning schools. For students below grade 10, this meant that progress through the grades should mirror practice in the school system—generally the schoolwork for a particular grade should be completed by the end of the traditional school year. For learners in grade 10 or higher, though, distributed learning schools expected learners to need and to show more flexibility in terms of when they enrolled and in how much time they needed to complete the coursework.
For both ranges, the Ministry added two additional enrolment data collection dates to the existing province-wide count on September 30: one in mid-February and the other in early May. Nearly all eligible supplements—including English as a Second Language, Special Needs, and Aboriginal Language/Culture—are based only on September 30 enrolment counts. At each count, schools report programme or course activity that is new since the last count, but the allocations are based on grade level.
For students in Kindergarten through grade 9:
- Students reported Active as of September 30 receive the full FTE allocation
- counts reported as Active between the February and May generate 33.3% of the FTE allocation for support to the end of the school year
For students in grade 10 or higher, new courses are reported and generate the full course allocation (usually 0.125 FTE) for support to the end of the course, regardless of whichever school year or fiscal year that may fall in. For example, Pat enrolls in an online chemistry course in late August and an online biology course the following April, and takes a year to complete each. Assuming the course statuses are Active by September and May respectively, the chemistry course will trigger 0.125 FTE funding in September and the biology course will trigger 0,125 FTE funding in May. Even though Pat is still in those courses the following school year, the distributed learning school may not claim new course funding again, unless Pat takes yet another course.
All schools in British Columbia are subject to enrolment audits. A number of schools in each category, including distributed learning schools, are audited each year. Although a number of factors are included in audits, there are two major concerns for the distributed learning audit.
- Did the course meet Active criteria prior to the enrolment reporting date?
- Has the course only been claimed for funding once, rather than at each reporting date?
Note: The quality review and audit process were described in greater detail in the brief issue paper entitled “British Columbia’s Quality Framework for Distributed Learning” from the 2010 State of the Nation: K-12 Online Learning in Canada report.