I think I posted that this year we’ve been trying something new with our homeschool. We registered through an online state-sponsored charter school called TechTrep Academy. Now that we’re exactly 6 months from the “start date” of school, I feel like I can give a (mostly) thorough assessment of the program, what I like, what I don’t, and why someone might or might not want to register with them.
TechTrep Academy, the Basics
First, the basics about TechTrep. TechTrep Academy is an online charter school that you can join in Idaho, Tennessee, and Utah. I don’t know what grades are covered by the program in Tennessee. In Utah they cover grades K-12 under the name “MyTech High.” In Idaho they cover grades K-8 currently, with no immediate plans of covering high school (grades 9-12). Their website is http://www.techtrepacademy.com/; go there to find any changes and/or specific state requirements. I’m going to talk about Idaho, since that’s where I live.
How It Works
Here’s the premise of the program: in exchange for government (public school) oversight of your homeschool program through specific requirements that vary by state and certain school requirements, TechTrep Academy reimburses approved curriculum, supplies, and technology expenses for each child admitted in their school.
Here, the government oversight looks like weekly learning logs, complete with “Power Learning Goals” that must be submitted and are “graded” by a certified teacher. Students in grades K-3 must do an online reading assessment in the fall and spring (I forget what it’s called; we call it the owl game, because it’s led by an animated owl). Students in grades 3-8 must do end of year ISAT testing at central locations throughout the state (we will be driving 90 minutes to the nearest testing site in April for my 5th grader to do her testing). The ISAT consists of math and language arts, and for grades 5 and 7 (I think) also science. You also agree to complete any further requirements sent down by the state, which this year included a survey sent down from the state to EVERY SINGLE public school child and has absolutely NO bearing or application on the homeschool/online charter school environment, so I’m struggling figuring out how to have my child answer it.
The school requirements are just that each child is required to work in the 4 core subjects (math, language arts, social studies, and science), one “general” elective, and one “technology or entrepreneur-based” elective each week. The school also requires that each student maintains a 80% or higher grade (on a pass-fail basis, so it’s basically “did you do your learning log according to directions?” if so, you pass). If you do NOT maintain the 80% grade and/or aren’t working to remediate it, you may be withdrawn from the program and any and all reimbursements received must be paid back to the school.
In exchange for all that, you get reimbursement of approved expenses. This is split into three different categories. For grades 1-8, each student gets $800 total to be spent in material for the core subjects, $400 total to be spread between the two electives, and an additional $500 that is called “technology/flex” funds that can be used towards computers, tablets, or anything approved the other categories. For Kindergarten, the student gets $400 in core funds (kindergarten core is math, language arts, and science with NO social studies reported on), $200 for ONE elective (instead of the two required in the older grades) and $250 in technology/flex funds. The funds are REIMBURSED funds, meaning that you pay upfront, then submit receipts for reimbursement. The process takes a little bit of work, but it’s not horribly tedious, and the reimbursements don’t take a lot of time to come once they are approved. While approved receipts can be anywhere from May 1 (before the school year starts) to April 30 (at the end of the school year), Core and Elective reimbursements aren’t accepted until after about September 25, and Techology reimbursements aren’t accepted until after around October 25. This allows the school to solidify enrollment numbers to get some of the funds from the state (the state sends 1/9 the total each month throughout the year) before payments are made.
Overall, TechTrep is a really good program. They work hard to maintain open communication with the parents. They have a curriculum specialist (currently Janet Cox, a homeschooling mother of 10? children, who is amazing) who is available to help you figure out what curriculum you want to get for your family and what to change when what you have isn’t working.
The school WILL NOT tell you what curriculum to use or how to implement teaching your children. They just need you to report that you ARE teaching/your children ARE learning (those two are often NOT simultaneous, as ALL parents know!). If you submit a schedule at the beginning of the year that says you’re going to do everything through Unit Studies, and by November you realize that Unit Studies are NOT working for your family, it’s okay! As long as you continue to cover the subjects required, they don’t care if you change what you’re doing. You don’t even have to officially change your schedule; you just do it! I love that part the best honestly. If you planned on doing a homeschool co-op for your elective all year, and then the co-op doesn’t work, just fill in something else for the elective and you’re good. If your child realizes they HATE ballet, they don’t have to stay in ballet. They can switch to sewing, baking (though food isn’t a reimburseable expense), skiing, whatever works for your family!
TechTrep offers many programs and classes “for purchase” with your funds straight through the school. This takes out the work of having to go the sponsoring program’s website, pay yourself, and set up your own information independently. And while technology/entrepreneurship is a required elective, the school offers Technology classes through their website. This is a mixed blessing. If you register for the classes THROUGH TechTrep, you do basically NOTHING except make sure the class happens. However, it takes the ENTIRE $200 allowed reimbursement expense for that class and often a bit more from your “flex” funds (at least for the LEGO classes). If you need something that’s “open and go”, this is a great option. HOWEVER, be careful about doing it “because it’s easy.” This year my 2nd grade twins wanted to do LEGO WeDo 2.0. We looked at it through the program. They’d EACH be “charged” the $200 class fee PLUS an additional $150 EACH coming from their flex funds to cover the cost of the supplies. When I looked at purchasing the LEGO WeDo 2.0 set straight from LEGO, I found that ONE set of supplies cost $197 plus shipping, INCLUDED everything needed for the class, and had enough material for 2 students. All I do is decide WHICH lesson they’ll be doing. The typing classes are similar; you CAN register for a typing class through TechTrep, but it’ll take the entire $200 allotment for the tech elective, when you can often get EXACTLY the same typing program for $100 or less if you buy it independently. So when looking at the classes/options TechTrep offers FOR PURCHASE, do some research before agreeing to it; you may find that you can do it more economically elsewhere and have more funds for the never-ending supply of pencils and erasers that somehow ALWAYS disappear and can never be found even though they had a brand new pencil yesterday!
They have a very active Facebook group online which is NOT exclusive to currently enrolled parents that I would strongly recommend anyone thinking about joining TechTrep join; really almost any question you could possibly have has been answered in that group. They sponsor monthly(ish) activities and field trips around the state and in each region to let the kids get together and have fun. In our area, they’ve visited the planetarium, the art museum, had a Valentine party, gone ice skating, the “Museum of Clean” (that really is a museum in my region!), and more.
They have online resources included with the enrollment including BrainPop, BrainPop Jr., PEG Writing, TANG Math, and more. (I just named the ones I’ve used.) They offer Zoom-hosted Science Classes that help cover the Power Learning Goals that are recorded so your student can either attend “live” or watch the recording if the live time didn’t match your schedule.
Curriculum and supplies reimbursement approval is easy. They have a short (and it really is SHORT) list of “never approved” items for reimbursement, such as furniture, clothing (even uniforms), food/ingredients, and building supplies. They work hard to approve every school supply they can, and Janet is great at being able to tell you which curriculums can use TT money and which cannot (for example, The Good and The Beautiful is a religious curriculum, so cannot be reimbursed). You can use your elective funds to pay for classes like gymnastics, ballet, art, homeschool co-op, WITHOUT needing to have the providers “approved” by the school (THIS IS HUGE!).
I’ve seen parents figure out how to use TechTrep while unschooling. I’ve seen parents use TechTrep using Unit Studies. I’ve seen it work with The Good and the Beautiful. I’ve seen it work for “school at home” people. It really seems to work for everyone who is willing to jump through the hoops required to get the benefits they offer.
The teachers really do read your Learning Logs, and attempt to interact with your students. On the “homepage” where you submit your learning logs, each week the teacher writes a response to what she read in each child’s learning log. It has GOT to be a lot of work, but it’s nice to see them attempting to get to know the children that way. They really understand kids (at least the ones I’ve worked with) and really want to help you do the best you can as a homeschool parent, EVEN IF that means the best choice is withdrawing from the program.
The teachers are great to work with, and really do want to work with you. Family emergencies come up, and they understand that. Our whole family got sick in December, which culminated in the baby spending time in the hospital with pneumonia. Well, obviously I was NOT going to be home teaching school with my baby in the hospital, and emailed the teacher that information. She didn’t question my report, just said, “I’m so sorry! I’ll excuse all of your children from school for this week.” And that was the end of it. I didn’t have to worry about logging in to submit logs that said “We were sick this week”; she did it all for me. And that was hugely helpful.
The Bad (With Some Mixed Bag Things Here Also)
Receipts can be collected starting May 1, 2019 for the 2019-2020 school year but cannot be submitted until the end of September (this year it was September 25th). That means you CAN possibly take advantage of those homeschool convention vendor discounts (I highly recommend the LDSHE homeschool conference, this year in Williamsburg, VA or Logan, UT, for members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) but only if you can “float the cost” for a few months until reimbursement comes through.
It’s easy to think “Oh, the school has this covered for me, I don’t have to think” when IF you stopped to compare and think, you’d find that you’d save a lot of money in the grand scheme of things if you buy independently and ask for reimbursement. HOWEVER that means that you have to either have a credit card/credit line you can afford to put purchases on until you can be reimbursed or swallow the extra cost by having the school do the purchase for you. TechTrep HAS come up with a “middle ground” program where they’ll submit a purchase for you through Amazon or Rainbow Resource Company for an added fee, and that is a GREAT option for families that need the help.
This isn’t an issue for people more organized than me, but they’re STICKLERS on the Learning Logs being submitted on time. For example, one week I entirely forgot to submit my children’s learning logs (due at 10 pm) until 9:30. Typing as quickly as I could (and I type 90+ wpm) I got 3/4 of my children’s logs turned in “on time.” But my last child, I hit “submit” at 10:01 pm. Her learning log for the week was docked 20% for being late. The simple answer is “don’t be a slacker and get them in on time” but the reality is that sometimes life happens.
The Learning Logs are honestly somewhat of a pain to fill out. They’re NOT hard to fill out, just a pain. Currently (they’re working on improving this process) you click a box that says “you did school or were excused for illness”. Then you click which Power Learning Goals you covered in Language Arts. Then there’s a text box space to type “exactly” (not exactly, but SOMETHING) what you did to cover those goals in LA that week. Then you do the PLG and description for Math. Then again for Science. Then you type what you did in Social Studies, in your Tech Elective, and in your General Elective (there’s no power learning goals for those). And finally there’s a box at the end that says “Is there anything else you want to tell your teacher?” that you can type in. It’s NOT a hard process, but with 4 kids that I teach in “family school” style, it can get VERY tedious. It honestly took me until about 4 weeks ago to get smart and email my teacher to figure out a better solution: Now I type “see email for family school” in EVERY subject we do family school, in EVERY child’s learning log, and send a separate email that says “(Date) Learning Log Family School Report” so I only have to type all that information ONCE and I don’t have to copy/paste it into each child’s form.
IEP services, while they exist, are just as annoying to get as in the traditional school setting. I have two children with autism. They both receive extensive therapy independently right now, paid for through insurance. We attempted to get them on IEP’s through the school so that some of those services could be offered through the school through video-chat meetings (meaning I would have to do as many drop-off/pick-ups through the week). This is NOT the school’s problem, but the state’s, in that my boys didn’t qualify for services through the school because they need to be at the 8th percentile or below to qualify for speech services, and they tested at the 10th percentile. And the school can’t offer the other service the boys qualify for (occupational therapy) without having a second service in place. The alternative option to get them “qualified” was to have them spend at least 30 minutes a week (I think that was the time they gave) on a specific school app that would evaluate their progress to see if they qualified for services that way, but we opted NOT do to that. My kids doing enough as it is between their regular school and therapy; I was NOT going to add another thing they HAD to do because it *might* (but wouldn’t guarantee) allow them to get video services next year. We were able to get 504 plans in place for them for testing accommodations, but that’s it.
State testing is basically annoying no matter how it’s done, but when you live in a rural area, it’s even worse. The nearest testing site to us is 90 minutes away. They recommend (rightly so) that testing be split into one subject per day. This means that for one week in April we will be commuting 3 hours a day, 3 days that week, for my 5th grade daughter to complete her state testing. I wish there was a way this could be proctored online, like the K-3 reading test is, but I understand that’s not an option. It’s just annoying that it’s not, especially since the practice tests they have access to throughout the year ARE available to be proctored online. Seriously, if I had the funds we’d just get hotel/air BNB for the week and STAY there to avoid the travel, but with 6 kids and only ONE doing the testing, that’s a hard expense to justify when there’s not a ton to do in the area for the other kids anyway.
Internet access is a REQUIREMENT for this program. If you can’t log in to turn in your learning logs, you don’t get credit (see the 1 minute late log report above). If you can get an email to go out, you can tell your teacher the internet is down, but if it’s prolonged, you’re pretty much out of luck.
Okay, I had to add this category, just because. This will NOT apply to everyone, but it does to me. I struggle with SADD. The winter months of Idaho are AWFUL for me. At this moment, we’re in the middle of yet another Winter Storm Warning with projections of 3-8 inches (and luckily this time the projection was WAY off) and we ALREADY have over 3 feet of snow on the ground in the back yard. Basically, in the winter I have little to NO desire to get out of bed and teach my children.
The “UGLY” about being enrolled in an online charter school of ANY sort, not TechTrep in particular, is that it doesn’t really matter HOW mom is feeling; school MUST happen on a regular basis throughout the traditional school year. For me this has meant a LOT of teaching in my bed, with kids bringing me materials. It’s meant a LOT of audiobooks and LEGO “classes”. It’s meant that my kids spend a lot more time on screens than I would prefer, to make sure they have SOMETHING to report on their learning log that week.
For someone else I know, her “ugly” is what has prevented her from joining any online charter school altogether: she LOVES to travel, and travels A LOT while everyone else is in school. Unless you plan to carry all your books and curriculum with you, and have solid access to the internet the entire time, enrolling in a school like this will automatically preclude you from traveling the way you’d like.
So there you go. That’s my synopsis of TechTrep Academy in Idaho. There’s a LOT of information to think about when considering registering for an online charter program. What is important to you depends entirely on YOU. What is important for an “established homeschooler” might be drastically different for someone who is venturing into homeschooling for the first time, whether with a kindergartener or pulling their kids from the area schools. And what is a big deal for me might not be a big deal for you.
So, the big question is, this year was a “trial year” for us. I told my husband I was willing to TRY it for ONE year, and then we’d see. So are we doing it again for the 2019-2020 school year? Our answer is yes, unless something changes drastically in the next 6 months before school starts again. The pros outweigh the cons in most cases, and in the places they don’t there’s enough “okay” about it to make it worth doing.