Alternative Learning Programs Overview ( Public School at Home )

Alternative Learning Programs (ALPs) are public school programs that do not require full-time on-site attendance, but do enroll the student as a full-time student. There are three basic models of ALPs. One type known as Parent Partnership Programs market heavily to homeschoolers and cause us the most concern. Many use homeschooling terminology in their names and in documentation. Most of these programs were also started by homeschooling parents, and some were state or local homeschooling leaders. This has caused much confusion in the homeschooling community.

The Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) defines the status of a student according to who is in control of supervising the child’s education. When a parent enrolls in an ALP, they must fill out a Student Learning Plan and report hours on-site and off-site. According to the OSPI, this places the student under the direct supervision of the public school and therefore makes him/her a public school student. ALPs have always allowed off-site independent study, but this should not be confused with homeschooling.

In the document titled, Washington State’s Laws Regulating Home-based Instruction (published by the OSPI)question 11 (part three, page 17):

Are there any circumstances by which a school district may provide the same model of instruction that home-based students receive to students who are full-time public school students?

No. The definition of home-based instruction found in RCW 28A.225.010(4) does not meet direct supervision requirements for the allocation of state funds. Full-time equivalent student is defined in WAC 392-121-121. However, WAC 392-121-183 Finance, General Apportionment: Alternative Learning Experience Requirements authorizes school districts to adopt rules by which a school district may receive full-time enrollment for teaching/learning experiences conducted off-campus. Under such rules a student is enrolled as a public school student. Alternative school district programs must meet minimum program hours and direct supervision requirements to receive state funds.

The History of Alternative Learning Programs

In the early 1990’s the State Legislature and the State Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) began funding programs for alternative learning. The programs were authorized for grades 9 through 12 (RCW 28A150.220 1b) because it was hoped that they would help decrease high school drop-out rates. In 1995 the state superintendent’s office passed a revision to the rules (WAC 392-121-183) governing the funding of these programs and made the programs available for grades K-12. This opened the door for some to exploit the funding of these programs. The WAC development team that worked on the revision in 1995 attempted to make it clear that these programs were available for public school students, not for students who were home-based or in a private school. This did not deter those who saw an opportunity to carry out their own agendas, whether that involved marketing the programs for personal profit, getting back their tax dollars, or growing the school district’s revenue.

The programs were started in order to provide services to a variety of students, including those who are gifted, home-based, or at-risk. The programs were designed for less on-site hours than a traditional school, with the student doing work off-site or at home. In the case of a child who was not high school age, it was expected that the parents would supervise instruction at home. Some have tried to define this as homeschooling. There is no provision in the home-based instruction law or in any public school law to allow for government-funded homeschools.

There are only three legal ways to educate children in the state of Washington: home-based (homeschooling), private school, or public school. Just as there are many ways to homeschool and a variety of private schools, there are now many models of public school. The question is, who is in direct supervision of the child’s education? The only model that allows the parents to be in direct supervision of their child’s education is homeschooling.

RCW 28A.200.020 Home-based instruction — The state hereby recognizes that parents who are causing their children to receive instruction under RCW 28A.225.010 (4) shall be subject only to those minimum state laws and regulations which are necessary to insure that a sufficient basic educational opportunity is provided to the children receiving such instruction. Therefore, all decisions relating to philosophy or doctrine, selection of books, teaching materials, and curriculum, and methods, timing, and place in the provision or evaluation of home-based instruction shall be the responsibility of the parent except for matters specifically referred to in this chapter.

In the 2005 legislative session, the legislature passed a law (SB5828) that allowed for the expansion of alternative learning programs (ALPs). The new law allowed for digital learning programs, more commonly known as “virtual schools.” As a result, the OSPI was required to write rules to govern these programs.

In addition, during the past couple of years the State Auditor’s Office and the legislature (through the members of the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee) have been conducting an investigation into these programs due to their many abuses and lack of compliance, specifically within the Parent Partnership Programs (PPP).

Because of the new law for “virtual schools” and the investigation by the legislature and the State Auditor’s Office, rules were written for all ALPs and OSPI developed “implementation guidelines” for these rules.

The new law/rules allow for part-time attendance in all ALPs, which means parents are no longer required to enroll in the program full-time, thereby losing their homeschool status and their freedoms under the home-based instruction law. Some school districts are not complying with this new law/rule.

CHN also worked to have a “full disclosure” form required by law so that parents will be informed of the difference between the program and homeschooling under the home-based instruction law RCW 28A.200. Many sites are not adhering to this legal requirement. This form is called the “Statement of Understanding” we have included a sample for your use.

If your program is not complying with these changes please e-mail us at and we will try to assist you.

There has been some confusion among parents who have children enrolled in these programs; much of the confusion can be attributed to the fact that many of the PPPs do not comply with existing laws and rules. Many PPPs do not make it clear to parents that 1) The school district is responsible for supervision of the child’s education and 2) that all curriculum must be approved by the local school district and cannot be religious, even if the parent bought the material and is using it at home. If these hours are claimed for public funding then the teaching must be secular. This is not a change; this has always been the law/rules for alternative learning programs.

Links to sources:

Implementation Guideline from the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) – includes new rules governing ALPs, implementation guidelines, and a chart of changes.