Virtual schools have been around for quite some time, and are widely available in one format: You sign up and use their curriculum.
Harmony is different in the sense that you have quite a bit of choice when it comes to curriculum. You can use your own, or use theirs.
And because of that freedom, things get a little confusing, but I hope I can explain this well.
As of January 2019, Harmony Ed is only available in Utah, Hawaii, Minnesota, and Idaho.
How does Harmony Ed work?
Just like other virtual schools, you use your open enrollment option in your state to sign your child up for a school outside of their home district (open enrollment may be called something different in various states). This does mean that your child will be considered a public school student, not a homeschooled student, according to the law. In Minnesota, that means that you will not be able to deduct homeschool expenses from your taxes.
After you are enrolled, you choose which programs you want to use for each subject: Math, Language Arts, Social Studies, and Science. Kindergarten is considered to only have one subject, which contains a smattering of all four content areas.
In each subject, you can choose from a couple online courses to use. If you choose one of the online course options, then any work you need to turn in would be part of that course work.
So far, this is all pretty straight forward and exactly how a virtual school works, but most people I know that use Harmony Ed use it for the Flex option
What is the Harmony Ed Flex option?
For each subject: Math, Language Arts, Social Studies, and Science, you can choose the Flex option, which is in essence cashing out from using their online option.
For each subject you get $125 (again, for Kindergarten there is only one “subject”) to buy the materials of your choosing. If you choose to cash out of all four subjects, you would receive $500 that you can spread out to any subject as you see fit.
For instance, if you get $500 for all four subjects, you could spend it like this, if you wanted:
- Math $200
- Science $200
- Language Arts $25
- Social Studies $75
You can not buy these types of items:
- Home repair
- Furniture, including desks, tables, bookcases, etc.
- Clothes, including clothing needed for any lessons (dance) or activities (PE)
- Groceries, food items or appliances, even for cooking or science classes
- Internet access or subscription fees
- Personal expenses
- Participation fees for sports camps, athletic teams or leagues, or musical groups/ensembles
- Religiously-based curriculum,books and materials including purchases of such items from suppliers such as (but not limited to) Apologia, Sonlight, Liahona Home School, A Beka, and others.
Additionally, you could use the funds for things like swimming lessons, gymnastics, science museum membership, etc.
Personally, when I heard of Harmony, I already had most of our curriculum purchased, so I used the funds for a history society membership, science museum membership, and YMCA membership, along with some homeschool items that I just hadn’t gotten around to buying yet.
Harmony Plus funds
Regardless of whether you choose from the online courses or the Flex option, you will be able to use $300 toward items of your choice ($150 for Kindergarten). Other virtual schools provide a computer to their students, and if one is needed, this money would cover that. If you have a computer, you can use it as you wish. You can read more about Harmony Plus funds on their website.
So, if you choose the online courses, you’d get $300 to use as you wish. If you were to use the Flex option for all the courses, you’d get a total of $800 per child, grade 1 and older (a total of $275 for Kindergarten).
The $800 is a total pool to use. It is not $500 for curriculum and $300 for other expenses. You can spend the total $800 on whatever approved items you desire.
What’s the catch with the Flex program?
There’s no such thing as free money, right? Of course.
If you choose to use the Flex option, you will need to turn in one worksheet per subject every two weeks. If you do Flex for all four subjects, that amounts to about 2 worksheets a week (submission dates are still just every 2 weeks).
The next question is how much time do the worksheets take each?
My personal experience is with Kindergarten and 2nd grade, and the worksheets are nominal. There are a couple worksheets in the 2nd grade pack that include a small project, or something to memorize (the pledge of allegiance), but most don’t take more than 10 minutes to complete. So far, in my opinion, they are absolutely worth the $800 I’m getting for completing them.
I do hear that for older children, the worksheets get to be more involved, and it’s not something that the parents want to incorporate into their homeschool. I believe the school will allow you to see some samples of the worksheets for your grade, if you were to ask.
My personal thoughts on the worksheets
I generally avoid worksheets, especially things that are multiple choice and fill-in-the-blank. I think they are not effective tools for learning. I also very much enjoy the Charlotte Mason method we’ve been implementing the last few years.
But I’m willing to jump a few hoops to get some money back from the taxes I pay in. If that comes in the form of some worksheets that take less than 30 minutes of my time per week, so be it.
Also, I’ve been very fortunate that the worksheets have been on things that we already have covered, or are currently covering. There are a couple history worksheets where I need to cycle back and cover something, like south American conquistadors, but again, it’s a hoop I’m willing to jump. There was also a question about who Columbus was and two of the options were a) the man who discovered America and b) a man who wiped out the Native Americans. She probably chose the “wrong” answer, but I don’t care. I do not teach that he “discovered” America.
I actually don’t tell her her grades on the worksheets because I don’t want her putting too much weight into them. She knows that they are the ticket to use getting museum memberships and other things paid for. She actually does quite well and has A’s in all her subjects, but I don’t communicate her grades at this age.
What are electives?
Electives are available for all students, regardless of what options they choose in online courses or Flex courses.
The list of electives is very long, spanning many subject areas and interests. You can choose anything from easy reader books, biology kits, a microscope, sewing kit, cooking kits, Rosetta Stone courses, and many more. In my estimation, there are something like 200 options to choose from.
You are not graded on electives, so these are for you to use at your leisure. Rosetta Stone courses might be an exception to that rule, but you can check with the school on that.
How do you order?
Each semester you can make an order for goods or services. Whenever possible, Harmony will order the item on your behalf and ship it to you. When that is not possible, they will write a check out to the provider and mail that check to you. You can not get reimbursed for something you have already paid for.
What is the commitment?
You are expected to finish out the year when you sign up and receive funds from Harmony. If you do not finish the year, you would be expected to return any non-consumable items, or repay for items like memberships that were purchased on your behalf. If you finish out the year, you can keep anything you received from the school.
Where does all the money go?
The tax money that is allotted for your child is far more than $800, so where does the money go?
I can’t answer that question specifically, but Harmony does have staff they employ, which obviously needs to be paid for.
Still, if you look up who started the school, it is a state senator, and who are the head guys running it, they are business men. This is a business, not a charity.
My personal thoughts are if someone can come up with innovative ways to support families educating their children at home, taking some of the weight off of an already-strained school system, then who am I to complain? I totally understand if people are uncomfortable with their tax dollars going into a school-business. It’s a personal choice that has to be made.
Of course, check out their website first and foremost, but if you have any other questions about the experience with it, feel free to leave a comment and I’ll try to answer to the best of my knowledge. We’ve only been doing it for a solid semester, but it seems like I’m answering the same questions over and over, so I hope this can give you a basic understanding.