Twin Falls School District will provide free online classes for homeschoolers

Crossroads United Methodist Church

TWIN FALLS — Twin Falls homeschoolers: You’ll soon have access to free curriculum and online classes through the Twin Falls School District.

The district is launching a new partnership with Harmony Educational Services, based in Springville, Utah.

An informational meeting for interested families is slated for Tuesday at the Twin Falls Public Library. Families can enroll their kindergarten through eighth-graders in the program through mid-September.

The partnership essentially allows homeschoolers the flexibility to pick and choose their curriculum and online classes, and have support from the Twin Falls School District. And it allows the district to receive state funding for each student enrolled.

“The school district recognizes that there are homeschooled families in the district that they are really not providing resources for,” said Jon Funes, vice president of Harmony Educational Services. “It’s a flexible program that really focuses on homeschooled families and trying to meet their needs.”

But not everyone has been pleased.

The Salt Lake Tribune reported in May 2014 that two Utah charter schools cut ties with Harmony.

One of the school leaders called the company “predatory” during a meeting with the Utah State Charter School Board, saying taxpayer money wasn’t used wisely.

It came after a 2014 audit report from the Utah State Board of Education, scrutinizing distance learning and online programs in Utah schools.

It found about $10.5 million in state money that year went to Harmony Educational Services and My Tech High Inc., another Utah-based online learning provider.

The Better Business Bureau gives Harmony an A+ rating, although the company isn’t BBB accredited.

The Idaho State Department of Education doesn’t regulate or monitor homeschooling education. It’s up to each parent to select the curriculum they’ll use. And parents don’t have to fill out any paperwork or register showing they’re homeschooling their child.

Magic Valley Junior School and Magic Valley Commonwealth School are among several organized local homeschooling groups. Other families meet informally for classes.

But some school districts — including Twin Falls — are looking at how to serve homeschooled students.

In June, the Twin Falls School District signed a one-year contract with Harmony, effective through June 30, 2018.

The district will pay $300 to the company for each student Harmony recruits to enroll for next school year, according to the contract.

Plus, for the curriculum, the district will pay Harmony $1,590 per year for each full-time kindergartner and $2,390 for each full-time first through sixth-grader. It will cost $250 per semester course for seventh and eighth-graders.

Full-time student mentoring and other services will cost $400 for kindergartners and $750 for first-through-eighth-graders.

School officials weren’t aware of Utah schools pulling out of their agreement with Harmony, Twin Falls School District spokeswoman Eva Craner said Monday.

But they spoke with other Idaho school districts who’ve contracted with the company, she said, and received positive responses.

After the first year, school officials will evaluate how the offering worked and will talk with participating families, Craner said.