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Some families frustrated over long-standing Oregon rule allowing districts to cap students who can attend online charter school

Hundreds of families haven't been able to enroll in Oregon Charter Academy because of a law commonly referred to as “the three-percent rule," said school officials.

Since the pandemic began more families have become interested in online public charter schools.

While demand is still high, some virtual public charter school advocates and families say a longstanding Oregon rule is preventing some families from having a choice regarding their child's education.

Frank Travis has three daughters. Two of them are in middle and high school. This year, he wanted to enroll them in an online public charter school.

“The things that I really liked is they have very targeted programs, you know, math, where they'd actually teach you personal finance, balance your checkbook, doing your taxes,” Travis said.

But he said when he put in his request to his daughters' school district, he was denied.

“They were very direct in basically telling me that they're not going to let my kids go and in my opinion, they gave no reason for this. It was like they are a number and they need to keep their numbers,” said Travis.

Allison Galvin, executive director at Oregon Charter Academy, said many families across Oregon, and in many districts, are in the same predicament.

“Our virtual public charter schools have seen a significant decrease in enrollment,” Galvin said.

She said there are hundreds of families that have not been able to enroll in her charter school because of a law commonly referred to as “the 3% rule.”

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Galvin said the 3% rule has been around for years in Oregon. It puts a cap on the percentage of students that can leave a district for a virtual public charter school. Some districts enforce it, others don’t. But since the pandemic began, online charter school officials across the state are seeing more denials, said Melissa Hausmann, the head of school for Cascade Virtual Academy, Insight School of Oregon - Painted Hills and Oregon Destinations Career Academy.

“We are seeing more families getting denied because of the 3% cap than historical and that's because more families are choosing virtual education,” Hausmann said. “Schools haven’t ever, historically, lost as many students to the virtual platform as they have now."

She said at the virtual public charter schools she specifically oversees, enrollment has been up, which could be a product of the districts her students are coming from. They may not have reached a 3% cap or may have decided not to enforce the rule. While her schools haven’t received the same number of denials as Oregon Charter Academy, she said virtual public charter schools across Oregon are seeing a high number of denials from districts.

When asked if the 3% rule comes down to money, Hausmann that it was likely. School districts receive government funding for each student in the district.

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“It probably does come down to that and that's just because, you know, state funding is precious for families and that's the way that schools fund their educational platforms,” said Hausmann.

Galvin said additionally, school districts are allowed to use student population numbers from any time in the last year. She said with online schooling being so popular and attracting students from districts across Oregon since the pandemic began, some districts may be calculating three-percent using a lower student count, at a time when more students had transitioned to a virtual public charter school.

Hausmann, Galvin, and Travis all agree on one thing.

“I feel all parents should be able to pull their kids and put them in a school that they align with better,” said Travis.

Travis said he was eventually able to enroll his kids in Oregon Charter Academy because of a miscommunication.

The charter school representatives we spoke with said they hope state lawmakers take another look at what they say is an outdated rule that prevents families from having a choice.