DCSS Superintendent: Ask questions when considering virtual schooling

We are in exciting times in the field of education. The continual introduction of new technology has paved the way for student learning to be flexible, individually paced, and real-time. Keeping up with the changes in technology is automatic for the students we serve, but sometimes challenging for school systems with limited resources; especially those confined to rural areas of the state. Like many school systems in Alabama, Demopolis is constantly brainstorming ways in which to provide updated modern technology to students and teachers.

KYLE KALLHOFF Guest Columnist Kallhoff is the  superintendent of the Demopolis City School System.

Guest Columnist
Kallhoff is the superintendent of the Demopolis City School System.

As a system, we are able to keep up with the rapidly changing world of technology with help from the Demopolis City Schools Foundation, federal funding, state funding, and local taxes. Local taxes are comprised of sales and property taxes from Marengo County as well as property tax from the City of Demopolis. School systems receive a portion of these tax dollars based on student enrollment. Sales and property taxes earmarked for schools are great examples of how tax money is used to provide services for local communities. State funding is incrementally distributed to school systems monthly based on student enrollment numbers and comes from the Education Trust Fund which is passed by the State Legislature each year. Employee salaries and benefits are paid with monies from the Educational Trust Fund. However, federal funding is determined by the number of students within the school system who are eligible for free or reduced lunch.
Throughout the State of Alabama, there is a push for virtual schools and charter schools. Fortunately, charter schools have been confined to larger metropolitan areas of the state. Charter schools operate with rules and regulations that slightly differ from those in which public schools operate. In Alabama, charter schools take money from local communities and have yet to yield positive results. If not researched carefully, virtual schools can be just as risky for parents and students as well as detrimental to funding of local school systems. Virtual schools are “popping” up throughout the state in an effort to entice families from rural communities to send their tax dollars to larger more affluent communities. Virtual schools are web-based schools where all of the student’s coursework can be taken online with limited to no interaction with adults. Virtual schools in Alabama seemingly are preying on areas of the state where resources are not as plentiful and families are not as informed, which directly drains property and sales taxes from the communities where they are needed the most.
There are also benefits to virtual schools which include: self-paced learning, flexible learning hours, ability to stay in school during difficult family or personal times, and ability to excel academically.
If you are considering a virtual school from another part of the state, be sure to ask key questions to determine if your child will be receiving a quality education. Inquire about how students perform on the ACT and Advanced Placement exams. Verify that students will have access to STEM curriculum such as robotics, hands-on labs and career technical education classes. Confirm that problem solving, creativity, critical thinking, analyzing, and collaboration are taught by the virtual teachers. Determine if your child will be challenged and prepared for college or work through virtual coursework. Find out how virtual instructors respond when children struggle with the content or need remediation and additional help. And most importantly, ensure that the tax dollars from your local community are not being redirected to other parts of the state.
As a small school system in west Alabama, it is critically important that we protect our resources in order to make a difference in the lives of the students we serve. If we allow our hard earned dollars to support other parts of the state, we just may be cutting off the hand that feeds us.
If you have questions about virtual schools or if you are considering enrolling your child in a virtual school that is not provided by your local school system, please contact your local school superintendent.