Issues Library—Federal Education Policy
Virtual Public Education
Updated: February 6, 2017
What Is Virtual Public Education?
Virtual public education includes all government-funded online education options, including public school satellite programs and online charter schools.
HSLDA believes that a distinction between homeschooling and online education provided by public schools is vital. We believe that homeschooling means more than simply “learning at home.” To us, a critical part of the definition of homeschooling is that it is private and parent-directed. Children who are taught at home via online public school options are receiving an education that is overseen and funded by the state. Because of this, HSLDA does not provide legal services in connection with students enrolled full-time in online public school programs.
HSLDA also believes that maintaining the distinction between virtual public schooling and homeschooling is crucial for the continued legal success of home education. If in-home public school programs are regarded as “homeschools,” it will be much more difficult for lawmakers to see the differences between them, making it more difficult for private homeschoolers to obtain legal protections. We thus advocate strict adherence to a narrow definition of the word homeschool.
In addition, maintaining the distinction enables the gathering of more precise statistics related to the academic success of students whose education is overseen by their parents, not by a public school.
Virtual public schools can be aggressive in targeting homeschoolers, sending multiple mailings and marketing materials to persuade them that this form of public education qualifies as “homeschooling.” In reality, virtual public school administrators are competing with traditional public schools for the thousands of dollars per student in state funds that they receive if they bring more homeschoolers into the public school system.
Children who are enrolled in in-home public school programs must follow all of the programs’ policies and procedures, which include restrictions such as exclusion of religious educational materials as part of the formal curriculum. Attending a virtual public school means accepting the bureaucracy and government supervision that are linked to receiving tax dollars.
Unlike the proven academic success of homeschooling, virtual public education has been shown to have negative educational outcomes for students. Indeed, these negative educational outcomes have become so well-documented, that the Walton Family Foundation was forced to conclude “[t]his is stark evidence that most online charters have a negative impact on students’ academic achievement.”