Over the course of the 2020 school year, “pandemic pods” became a popular tool of parents as either a supplement to, or replacement for, traditional K-12 schooling. Now, thanks in part to Heritage Foundation research and collaboration with the State Policy Network, parents in West Virginia can continue utilizing this educational option.
“Pods” are small groups of students who are taught from home by a privately hired tutor. Parents often pool resources and then form neighborhood learning pods so that their children can learn together.
Most pandemic measures in schools have been lifted, but many families have continued this learning practice. But questions had arisen regarding state compulsory attendance laws, and whether these “pods” qualify as sufficient education. Educational funds were another issue since the money does not always follow the child when they transition to a different learning method.
In addition, parents who desire to continue using the pod learning system are finding it difficult, as public officials work to limit the creation and proliferation of these small learning communities.
A Heritage team drafted a report on the trend toward pod learning, and on states providing education savings accounts (ESA), which allow educational funds to follow students. Heritage promotes school choice as well as practices and policies that allow for increased education options, such as pod learning and allowance of ESAs.
Recently, West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice signed a bill that allows learning pods and micro-schools to satisfy the compulsory attendance requirement. The bill follows the model of the report crafted by Heritage researchers and scholars.
West Virginia already has the most inclusive ESA law in the country. Now, these funds can be applied to learning pods.
This legislation follows in the wake of a recent law approved in Georgia. Termed the Learning Pods Protection Act, it defines and deregulates the pods, giving parents and students more freedom to govern their educational experience.
According to Jonathan Butcher, Will Skillman fellow in education at Heritage, the report and model legislation drafted by Heritage were instrumental to these efforts by lawmakers.
“By exposing these policies,” writes Butcher, “we were able to alert state lawmakers that proposals were needed to protect parents’ rights to create learning pods while the traditional district system failed to meet students’ needs.”
Legislation such as what was recently passed in West Virginia will continue to expand the freedom of choice for parents, so that they are empowered in choosing what is best for their children.