The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Board of Education meets on Monday, April 10, 2023, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Board of Education meets on Monday, April 10, 2023, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Connections looks to boost home-school enrollment

Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Peter Micciche has pointed to state money that goes to non-KPBSD home-schooled students

Better advertising and more community involvement are among the ways Connections Homeschool is working to attract new students to the program, Principal Doug Hayman told members of the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Board of Education during a Monday presentation.

The program, which saw a surge in enrollment during the COVID-19 pandemic, now has the largest enrollment of any other school in KPBSD.

Per enrollment data collected on March 30, about 1,140 of KPBSD’s roughly 8,270 students — 13.8% — are enrolled in Connections Homeschool. That’s almost twice as many students as KPBSD’s largest brick-and-mortar school, Soldotna High School, which serves about 620 students.

As the district faces a budget deficit for the upcoming fiscal year, newly elected Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Peter Micciche has pointed to state money that goes to non-KPBSD home-schooled students, which KPBSD may be missing out on.

Micciche revived the discussion during the assembly’s March 14 meeting, when he noted that more than one in four school-aged children on the Kenai Peninsula are enrolled in some type of home-school program. He extended to KPBSD Superintendent Clayton Holland, who was presenting a quarterly update to the body, the question of what is being done to capture those students.

“I’m just wondering what that process looks like for an all-hands-on-deck approach to understand why those parents are choosing to go elsewhere and what we can do to bring a relatively high proportion of them back to Connections right here in our own district,” Micciche said at that meeting.

Hayman laid out for board members during a Monday presentation the advertising strategies the school has implemented during the current school year, such as radio, shopping cart and print advertisements, as well as an increased presence on social media and more community outreach and involvement.

KPBSD Finance Director Elizabeth Hayes told the Clarion in February that there are more than 1,400 school-age children on the Kenai Peninsula who attend a home-school program that is not Connections. Most of those students, about 95%, are enrolled in Interior Distance Education of Alaska, or IDEA, which operates within the Galena City School District.

More than 70 students on the Kenai Peninsula, Hayes said, participate in nine other home-school programs, such as those offered by the Denali Borough, Mat-Su Borough and Chugach school districts.

For each Connections Homeschool student, KPBSD receives 90% of the state funding it receives for students in brick-and-mortar schools. The district doesn’t receive any money for peninsula home-school students who do not attend Connections.

It’s for that reason that some have eyed a shift in enrollment from IDEA to Connections as a possible new revenue stream for the school district, which faced a $13.1 million budget deficit for the upcoming fiscal year.

Hayes said in February that, if all the school-age Kenai Peninsula Borough students currently enrolled in a non-KPBSD home-school program decided to enroll in Connections for next school year, the amount of money KPBSD receives from the State of Alaska would increase by about $7.7 million.

KPBSD School Board Vice President Zen Kelly, however, pushed back on that claim during Monday’s presentation, saying that such an increase would require the district to hire more staff to support the program and that the $7.7 million figure doesn’t tell the whole story.

“We have … what you’re saying about a 90 to one (pupil-teacher ratio), so for 1,300 — roughly — students, that’s 16 more certified (full-time positions), much less the classified positions that are needed to support that infrastructure,” Kelly said.

Hayes said that, like other district employees, he wants the programs offered by Connections to be as robust as possible. The program became available statewide this year, for example, and Hayman has previously touted the smoother transitions available for Connections students who still want some involvement in KPBSD’s brick-and-mortar schools.

“I want this program to be the premier program of the State of Alaska, if not the United States,” Hayman said Monday.

More information about Connections Homeschool can be found on the district’s website at kpbsd.org.

Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at ashlyn.ohara@peninsulaclarion.com.

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