To compete better for students, the Juneau School District's correspondence program will give parents more money and services.
The district enrolls about 65 students in its correspondence program, open only to Juneau residents.
In contrast, statewide correspondence programs run by the Galena City School District and the Yukon-Koyukuk School District enroll 167 and 182 Juneau students, respectively.
Under the statewide and local programs, school districts receive state funding for each student and give part of it to parents to buy educational materials. The students are home-schooled.
The programs generally also lend computers to the students, and some programs call themselves cyber schools because of that.
But Juneau Cyber School's administrator, Laury Scandling, said the term was misleading, implying that the district offered an online curriculum. The local program now will be called HomeBRIDGE, which is partly an acronym for "bringing resources to independent development, growth and education."
HomeBRIDGE allows students to attend up to two classes at a time in the local schools and participate in after-school activities. Under its new policies, the district will no longer deduct $200 for each in-school course from the parents' stipend, Scandling said.
The parents' annual stipend per student will increase to $1,450 for kindergarteners through fifth-graders, $1,600 for middle-schoolers and perhaps $2,200 for high schoolers, Scandling said. The high school rate hasn't been decided yet.
The stipend had been $1,400 for students up to grade eight and $2,000 for high schoolers.
The new stipends, which stem from higher state education funding, match or trump increases at the major statewide correspondence programs.
HomeBRIDGE will allow parents who are in the program for two years to buy the computers for $50, Scandling said.
The program also will open a learning center staffed by a part-time certified teacher, she said.
The goal of the new policies is to be as family-friendly as possible with a generous allocation and local services, Scandling said.
"Giving more money and not taking away money is a draw," said parent Sue Badilla, who has enrolled children in Juneau Cyber School and the Galena program, called IDEA, as well as private and public schools.
Recent state rules for statewide correspondence programs limit how much of a stipend can be spent on art, music and physical education. If Juneau students can take those courses in local schools and not have their stipend deducted, that would attract parents, Badilla said.
Badilla used the Juneau Cyber School for her son, Aaron, 14, when he was in eighth grade, so he could take local courses such as Spanish, play sports and be prepared for Juneau-Douglas High School.
At the same time, the district's stipend paid for Aaron to take an honors algebra course from Johns Hopkins University.
But Badilla also has enrolled Aaron and her daughters Rebekah, 10, and Theresa, 18, in IDEA at times. IDEA has regional offices, including one in Juneau.
"They provided a lot of good support and a community feeling for home schooling," such as with picnics and field trips, she said. "There's more staff here in Juneau. They just are more involved."
Badilla said it's important to have choices so she can find the best education for her children.
Eric Fry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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