Multi-District Virtual Programs

Multi-district virtual programs are developed and maintained by intermediate school districts to serve students from more than one local district. An example is St. Clair’s Virtual Learning Academy for students who have dropped out or been expelled from alternative or conventional St. Clair County high schools.[54] Students can earn recovery credits in preparation for re-entering a conventional school, or they can earn their high school diploma directly through the Virtual Learning Academy. The St. Clair County Regional Educational Service Agency (an intermediate school district) authorized the academy as a charter school, and most of the school’s funding comes from the state’s per-pupil foundation allowance. Courses are provided by MVS.[55] The school enrolled 127 students in the 2009-2010 school year.[56]

Westwood Community School District manages an online alternative education program that serves any student in Wayne County. The Westwood Cyber High School is modeled after the “Not School” program developed in the United Kingdom. Enrollment has ballooned: In the 2008-2009 school year, the school served 540 students — three times as many as it did the previous year. The school had a waiting list of 150.[57]

Washtenaw, Livingston and Genesee intermediate school districts also have countywide multi-district programs. These ISDs all use a program developed by Widening Advancements for Youth, a newly formed nonprofit that specializes in “re-engaging” students who have dropped out or are at risk of dropping out. It uses virtual learning to enable these students to earn a high school diploma without needing to attend school on a daily basis.[58]

Even though the coordination of these WAY programs is managed by the ISDs, the state aid for the students who enroll in the programs is received by the students’ local districts. This mitigates the concern that individual districts might have about “losing out” on potential state funding for students who enroll in the WAY program.[59]

A major multi-district virtual program is the Genesee Network for Education Telecommunications, known as “GenNET.” GenNET, established in 2001, does not directly supply virtual instruction, but instead grants access to virtual courses from a host of other providers.[60] The courses were originally available only to students in the Genesee Intermediate School District, but due to a recent decision by Michigan Superintendent of Public Instruction Michael Flanagan, they are now available to students across the state.[61]

The courses are approved by GenNET and offered by institutions like Northwestern University, Brigham Young University and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Other course providers are private companies like Lincoln Interactive, Aventa Learning and K12 Inc.[62] GenNET ensures that all of its providers are accredited, and it independently monitors the instructional quality of each course.[63] Although the instruction is delivered full-time online, students are often supervised by teachers at their own schools, and this supervision may include some facilitated learning.

GenNET’s model enables it to offer a wider array of programs than MVS. In the 2009-2010 school year, GenNET carried 900 different courses, whereas MVS provided only about 270.[64] Although GenNET had about one-third the course enrollments of MVS, the GenNET program is growing rapidly. Course enrollments more than doubled from the 2008-2009 to the 2009-2010 school year, surpassing 4,000.[65]

Funding for GenNET’s services comes primarily from the districts whose students enroll in the courses. These districts pay the course fees out of their per-pupil foundation allowances. GenNET also receives funds from the Genesee Intermediate School District and has received a $165,000 grant from the Michigan Association of Intermediate School Administrators.66]

[54] “Frequently Asked Questions” (St. Clair County Regional Educational Service Agency, 2011), (accessed Jan. 11, 2011).

[55] More information can be found at: “Virtual Learning Academy,” (St. Clair County Regional Educational Service Agency, 2011), (accessed Jan. 11, 2011).

[56] “Virtual Learning News” (Virtual Learning Academy of St. Clair County), (accessed Sept. 1, 2010).

[57] Schultz, “At-Risk Students Embrace Online Learning at Metro Detroit Cyber School,” The Detroit News, Jan. 20, 2010, (accessed Jan. 20, 2010); Lori Higgins, “Cyber High School Program Reaches at-Risk Wayne County Teens,” Detroit Free Press, April 2, 2010, (accessed April 12, 2010).

[58] “Frequently Asked Questions” (Widening Advancements for Youth, 2011), (accessed Jan. 11, 2011). 2011

[59] Executive Director Beth Baker, Widening Advancement for Youths, telephone correspondence with Michael Van Beek, Jan. 10, 2011.

[60] Thomas Svitkovich and Beverly Know-Pipes, “GenNET — Academic Options for Schools: A Report to the House Education Committee” (Genesee Intermediate School District, 2009).

[61] Thomas Svitkovich, Beverly Knox-Pipes, and Debra Hartman, “Genesee County’s Seat Time Waiver Briefing” (Genesee Intermediate School District, 2009), (accessed Jan. 14, 2011).

[62] For a list of teacher-led online course providers through GenNET, see: “Teacher-Led Online Course Providers” (Genesee Intermediate School District, 2010), (accessed Jan. 14, 2011).

[63] Superintendent Thomas Svitkovich, Genesee Intermediate School District and Beverly Knox-Pipes, Assistant Superintendent, Genesee Intermediate School District, telephone correspondence with Michael Van Beek, Feb. 15, 2010.

[64] “A Report to the Legislature” (Michigan Virtual University, 2009), 2, (accessed April 10, 2010); “Online Courses Catalog” (Genesee Intermediate School District, 2010), course_catalog.asp (accessed Jan. 14, 2011).

[65] Thomas Svitkovich, Lisa Hagel, and John Schantz, “A Seat Time Waiver for You: Genesee County’s Seat Time Waiver Goes Statewide” (paper presented at the Michigan Association of School Administrators, Detroit, Mich., (accessed April 1, 2010).

[66] Thomas Svitkovich and Beverly Knox-Pipes, “Genesee Intermediate School District Three-Year Technology Plan, July 2008 – June 2011” (Genesee Intermediate School District, 2008), (accessed Jan. 26, 2011); Thomas Svitkovich, telephone correspondence with Michael Van Beek, Feb. 15, 2010.