RICHLAND -- Richland School District officials showed their pride Friday for two innovative projects they believe can be models for other school districts across the state.
About a dozen members of the Washington State School Directors' Association Legislative Committee toured Delta High School and Three Rivers HomeLink to see how these two projects are providing students with alternative ways of learning -- and using community partnerships to succeed.
"We are continuous learners," Superintendent Jim Busey said. "We want to share those learnings across the state. ... Our partnerships are maybe a little unique."
Committee members are in the Tri-Cities today for the group's Legislative Assembly, during which they will formulate priorities to take to the Legislature when it next meets. A pre-assembly day on Friday included the tour and an address by state Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn.
At the top of the priorities list likely will be a plea not to cut funding for the state's public schools.
Three Rivers HomeLink Principal Eric Sobotta told the committee members who visited his program that funding for all alternative learning programs such as HomeLink were cut by 10 percent across the board in the 2011 legislative session, and the program loses another 10 percent of its per student allocation for each student that isn't seen for at least one hour per week.
"The Legislature really hit us hard last (session) with funding," Sobotta said.
At the same time, enrollment in the program has grown from a few dozen students since it opened in 2008 to about 400 students this school year.
The program is a "Parent Partnership Program" designed to reach out to Richland families who were home-schooling students, but has attracted a number of families with students enrolled in traditional public schools, Sobotta said.
The program matches K-12 students and families with a consultant who develops a learning plan for the student, and each student has an account he or she can spend on classes.
The program receives about $4,500 per student, and $1,500 of that is made available to each full-time student to spend on learning, whether that's online or in a class or workshop at the program's physical space in Richland. As the student takes classes, money is deducted from his or her account.
"It's an administrative nightmare, but it gives flexibility to the families," Sobotta said.
Students enrolled in HomeLink must meet the same academic standards as students at traditional schools, he added.
Danny Edwards, a member of the Riverview School District Board near Seattle, said he was impressed with what he saw at HomeLink and Delta, particularly Delta's emphasis on science, technology, engineering and math education.
"Both programs have just been amazing and eye-opening," Edwards said. "The STEM programs available over here make me want to bring those back to our district and say, 'How do we replicate this?' "