Funding is a core requirement for schools, both traditional and online. For Grades 1-9, this funding model[1] in Alberta is the same for both online and traditional schools with “block funding” of a full year’s grant for each student registered and attending before the end of September based on a three year average of students enrolled. These funding structures came into place just before the pandemic, with minor adjustments to details on funding conditions made annually by Alberta Education.

In Alberta, online high schools are funded somewhat differently than traditional high schools, who are “block funded” for each student in the school as of the end of September. For online schools, students need to be registered and working before the end of September but are then funded either based on the expected credits completed for students registered exclusively with an online school (a “Primary” registration) or on a block grant for a student attending another school regularly (a “Non-Primary” registration). These registrations are similarly averaged over three years.

The Non-Primary registration is only granted to one online school based on which online school offers the greater number of credits. So, for a student attending Local School A in the First Semester but registering at Online School X for 10 credits and Online School Y for 8 credits, the Local School will receive its regular block funding but only Online School X would receive the much smaller Non-Primary funding while Online School Y would receive no funding at all. Now, if Online School Y were to register a further 5-credits in the Second Semester while Online School X did not deliver further courses, that Non-Primary funding would reverse and Online School Y would receive the full Non-Primary funding.

The impact on an online school, such as Vista Virtual School, would be to go into much deeper detail for students registering with the school. Appropriate academic planning has always been central to looking at a student registration but now the school also has to look at all of the various types of registrations a student might have and for how many credits. A student looking to register as a Non-Primary student with Vista Virtual School for 5-credits but already registered in another online school for 10-credits would have to be declined as the school would not have the funding available to address capacity issues in the school. Prior to this, both online and traditional school settings were predominantly funded based on credit completion with a smaller operational block funding for a student’s Primary school registration.

This new approach has both benefits and drawbacks for the school, with some level of predictability in funding but a much more complex approach to the registration process for the school.