One of the most commonly asked questions I hear is “What is Vermont Virtual?”
I am proud to say that our program is unique to Vermont and the rest of the country. In most states, a statewide virtual school program competes with the “brick and mortar” school for tuition dollars. Students who enroll in those programs draw money away from their local school as it becomes revenue for the virtual school. This type of school choice, although in many ways good for student opportunity, can be at the expense of a student’s local school. In Vermont, where the average student tuition is approximately $14,000, losing two or three students to a statewide virtual program could mean losing a teacher for that school.
VTVLC was created to be non-competitive with local schools. As part of the public education system, VTVLC supports access to virtual courses by providing “Virtual School Choice”. But what does that mean?
Most statewide programs hire teachers directly and charge tuition for students to attend the virtual program. The average tuition for statewide virtual programs ranges from 85% to 100% of what the costs are to attend the local brick and mortar school. This results in schools and districts losing hundreds, if not thousands of dollars in tuition money. As the popularity of virtual school programs grow, schools see an even bigger loss as more and more students enroll in online programs. In Vermont, many schools are seeing declining student enrollment as it is. So why is VTVLC different?
VTVLC is unique in that it is a cooperative program, supporting Vermont schools to offer online courses. This collaborative partnering process means that any Vermont school can offer an online class through VTVLC and earn seats for their students to use in any other offered courses. For clarity, a “partner school” is one that has at least one teacher (that as part of their regular teaching assignment) offers an online class through VTVLC. The partner school then has 25 seats each semester for their students to enroll in at no cost.
When schools join the partnership, a review of courses they offer (and what students around the state are looking for) is conducted. We look for low or under-enrolled courses that are offered at the potential partner school. These often are fantastic courses offered by great educators, but are serving only a handful of students locally. By opening up the empty seats to other students around the state, a school can then benefit by enrolling their local students in all of the courses offered through VTVLC. This maximizes the value that each and every teacher has by reaching as many students as possible and leaving fewer students wanting for courses that are just simply not being offered locally. But does this mean that any teacher can offer an online course as part of VTVLC? Not exactly.
VTVLC faculty, although employed by a Vermont school, must be properly licensed and endorsed in not only their content area, but as an online teacher. The Online Teaching Specialist (OTS) endorsement is required for all Vermont teachers who facilitate courses from a distance with Vermont students. These teachers must complete over 150 hours of professional learning, as well as a 60 hour practicum of student teaching in an online course while mentored with an experienced online teacher. What this means is that VTVLC faculty are some of the best, most motivated teachers in Vermont.
So what is VTVLC? Vermont Virtual is a statewide (virtual) virtual school, comprised of any brick and mortar schools and available to ALL Vermont students. We are proud to serve the students in Vermont and look forward to finding new opportunities as we grow and support more brick and mortar schools to embrace what online education has to offer.