State

Modesto eyes online high school

Modesto City Schools is considering a virtual solution to its declining enrollment: It's proposing an Internet-based high school to attract students.

Trustees next month will be asked to partner with Kaplan Virtual Education to create an online academic program that offers all kinds of high school courses — from remedial to honors classes.

"We do believe it would increase our enrollment," Associate Superintendent Randy Fillpot said.

Fillpot said Modesto's high school enrollment is expected to decline by about 100 students in the fall, but the virtual option could attract more students than that.

That's financially important because the state pays school districts based on how many students they enroll. So convincing new students to take Kaplan's online courses could generate badly needed extra funding for Modesto City Schools.

The district's online program also could enroll about 200 students currently on independent study and another 50 students with health issues who currently are taught at home or in hospitals.

Fillpot said about 100 additional teenagers who do not attend Modesto campuses are expected to be attracted to the Kaplan courses next fall. Those students now may be in private schools, home schools or no schools at all.

"This will allow them to get a free public education," Fillpot said.

That free education could be a moneymaker for Modesto. The school district would collect more than $5,000 per student from the state, but it likely would pay less than $2,000 per student to enroll them in Kaplan courses.

"The Kaplan classes would cost $140 to $200 per course per semester," Fillpot said. Full-time students typically would take 10 courses per year.

The district also would hire existing Modesto teachers to work extra hours as "facilitators" for those online courses, Fillpot said. But all the curriculum and course work would be provided via computer by Kaplan.

Kaplan Virtual Education, which is part of The Washington Post Co., currently has virtual schools in 19 districts nationwide, with about 3,850 students.

That includes a Kaplan program offered through the Tracy Unified School District. Tracy's charter high school "opened" last fall, and it has about 179 students.

Unlike what Modesto plans, Kaplan keeps most of the money it gets from the state to educate those Tracy students. Proceeds for Tracy Unified have been "very minimal," said Linda Dopp, the district's director of alternative programs.

Tracy's program also is different because it uses only Kaplan teachers, rather than its own.

Fillpot said that's a much more expensive option. He said the "dependent charter school" arrangement Modesto is negotiating with Kaplan would be the only one of its kind.

Details of the proposal are scheduled to be discussed and voted on April 22 when Modesto City Schools' trustees meet.

Bee staff writer J.N. Sbranti can be reached at jnsbranti@modbee.com or 578-2196.

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