Alternative learning experience
What is it: An alternative to traditional school which is developed and supervised by a public school teacher. These programs include online schools, contract programs or other education options school districts offer, such as the Valley Academy of the Wenatchee School District and Columbia Virtual Academy of the Eastmont School District.
Laws adopted: 1996, 2005
Funding: ALE is considered part of the public school system, so the state provides education funding for every student enrolled. Several programs offer reimbursement to families for non-religious materials the student needs to finish their “student learning plan,” including books, software, admission to museums or plays. The program approves the purchases in advance.
Requirements: Parents sign a document saying they understand of the difference between home-school and ALE.
• Students follow a learning plan and their progress is monitored and assessed by a public school teacher.
• Students follow the same testing rules, attendance and graduation requirements as public school students.
• Students must prove they are doing their own work.
• ALE programs submit an annual report to the state and the school board of the program’s school district. The report includes enrollment, staff-to-student ratios, a program description and evaluation.
What is it: Parents are solely responsible for planning and supervising their child’s education.
Law adopted: 1985
Funding: No state funding, parents pay for their child’s curriculum materials, transportation and extras, such as music or swimming lessons.
Requirements: Parents must qualify for home school by doing one of these things: take a college course about home-schooling, earn 45 college credits, a local school superintendent deems the parent “qualified,” or the student works with a teacher an hour a week.
• The parent sends an annual form to the school district declaring that their child will be home-schooled.
• Students take 11 subjects a year: occupational education, science, mathematics, language, social studies, history, health, reading, writing and spelling and art and music appreciation.
• Students test annually, either the state test or another test approved by the state. Several testing companies offer tests and grading. The results stay with the family, not reported to the state.
• Students cannot graduate through a public high school unless they meet state and local graduation requirements. The Washington Homeschool Organization hosts an annual home school graduation.
• Home-school students can still attend school part-time and request some services, such as speech therapy or academic counseling.
Source: Office of Superintendent
of Public Instruction
WENATCHEE — There’s more than one way to learn at home, but not all of it is home school.
Home school families say they’re trying to make that distinction clear as more students flock to alternative programs — online schools or school-sponsored programs where students stay at home.
The worry is that if these public school programs are widely accepted as home school, then independent home school will be assimilated under government control. They see the blurring of the lines as a threat to their independence.
The difference is who is ultimately responsible for the child’s education: The parent, or the state. In a home school situation, parents set all the structure. They pay for their own curriculum materials, and are not subject to the same attendance, reporting or pacing rules of Alternative Learning Experience (ALE) programs.
The definition started blurring nearly 15 years ago, said Emilie Fogle, a Wenatchee home school parent and board member for the Washington Homeschool Organization.
“When you said home schooling you meant home-based instruction, but after alternative learning law passed in 1996, it got fuzzy,” she said. “I wouldn’t know what I know today if that confusion hadn’t dragged us into it … we were just getting flooded with calls.”
That issue came to a head in February when the House Ways and Means Committee proposed cutting all funding to elementary ALE programs, including online school, kindergarten to sixth grade.
Rep. Pat Sullivan, D-Covington, said the proposal was based on a 2004 study that said most ALE students would home school if their program were cut. State education officials say they do not know how many current ALE students came from a home-school background.
Hundreds of alternative and online school parents sent e-mails, phone calls and letters to the committee demanding the cut be taken off the table.
“ALE parents were down there saying don’t take money away from my home-schooling, I need this from my home-schooling,” said Janice Hedin, an advocate for the Washington Homeschool Organization. “Home-schoolers ask nothing from the state and we want nothing.”
Hedin and the home-school association met with lawmakers and state Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn to clarify the distinctions. In the meantime, the House Ways and Means Committee took back the proposal because there wasn’t enough research about how much the state would really save, Sullivan said.
If the definition of home school continues to fade into public school, lawmakers will expect that home schoolers assume the same rules as ALE, Hedin said.
“When public schools, ALE administrators and parents call what they do home schooling and home-schoolers don’t respectfully speak up about the difference, we allow that redefining, graying and ongoing lack of distiction between public school and home schooling,” she said. “Ultimately home-schooling will only be allowed through government home-at-school programs.”
Rachel Schleif: 664-7139