TN 36 (05-14)
PR 08205.055 Wisconsin
A. PR 14-089 Wisconsin – Autumn /iForward – Wisconsin’s Online Charter School – Reply
DATE: May 6, 2014
iForward — Wisconsin’s Online Charter School qualifies as an educational institution for purposes of awarding Child’s Insurance Benefits.
You asked whether iForward – Wisconsin’s Online Charter School (iForward), an online charter school located in Wisconsin, may be considered an educational institution (EI) for purposes of awarding child insurance benefits.
For the reasons discussed below, we conclude that iForward qualifies as an educational institution for the purpose of awarding child insurance benefits. We further conclude that claimant meets the requirements for full-time attendance.
The claimant, Autumn, is seeking child insurance benefits (CIB) due to her status as a full-time student at iForward. With her application, the claimant submitted Form SSA-1372-BK indicating that she was scheduled to attend iForward full-time (30 - 40 hours per week) since September 2013, and that she expected to graduate in June 2015. The SSA 1372-BK was certified by iForward Principal Billy on February 17, 2014. Billy certified that the information provided by the claimant was correct, and that the school’s course of study was at least 13 weeks in duration.
The field office completed a Report of Contact indicating that an employee contacted Michelle of iForward in March 2014. At that time, Michelle advised that iForward offers core and elective classes, and that a state high school diploma is received at graduation. With regards to attendance, Michelle indicated that iForward monitors the time the students spend online, teachers take attendance in the online classrooms, and spreadsheets are kept for attendance records.
The Social Security Act (Act) provides for the payment of CIB to certain children of individuals who are entitled to old-age or disability insurance benefits or who died as fully or currently insured individuals. See Section 202(d)(1) of Act. As relevant here, to qualify for student benefits, a claimant must be at least 18 years old but under age 19 and a full-time elementary or secondary school student. See Section 202(d)(1)(B) of the Act; 20 C.F.R. § 404.350(1)(5). If the claimant is not under a disability, benefits terminate when he turns 19 years old, regardless of his educational status. See Section 202(d)(1)(F)(ii) of the Act.
“Elementary or secondary school” is defined as “a school which provides elementary or secondary education, respectively, as determined under the law of the State or other jurisdiction in which it is located.” Section 202(d)(7)(C)(i) of the Act; see also 20 C.F.R. § 404.367(a). The POMS refers to such a school as an “educational institution.” See POMS RS 00205.200A. Under the POMS, it is generally assumed that American public schools are EIs, absent evidence to the contrary; a non-public school cannot be assumed to be an EI. See POMS RS 00205.250B.
In order to count as a qualifying educational institution for purposes of awarding CIB,, the institution must provide a secondary education “as determined under the law of the State or other jurisdiction in which it is located.” 42 U.S.C. § 402(d)(7)(C)(i); see also POMS RS 00205.200(A). It does not matter if the school is online, so long as the school meets state law requirements. See POMS RS 00205.295.
POMS RS 00205.295 sets forth agency policy with respect to online schools. It defines an online school as “one that offers Internet-based courses to students.” POMS RS 00205.295A. A child attending an online school may be a full-time student if: (1) the student meets the standards for full-time attendance as defined in RS 00205.300, and (2) the online school operates in accordance with the law of the state in which the online school is located. See POMS RS 00205.295B.
The Act defines “full-time elementary or secondary school student” as an individual who is in full-time attendance at an elementary or secondary school, as determined by the Commissioner of Social Security by regulation. See Section 202(d)(7)(a) of the Act; see also 20 C.F.R. §404.367.
iForward Is An Educational Institution
As noted above, to be considered an educational institution, a school must provide elementary or secondary school education as determined under the law of the state or other jurisdiction in which it is located. See Section 202(d)(7)(C)(i) of the Act; 20 C.F.R. § 404.367(a); POMS RS 00205.200A. iForward is based in the state of Wisconsin. Therefore, it is necessary to examine Wisconsin law to determine whether iForward is an EI.
Wisconsin statutes expressly define and govern “virtual charter schools.” See Wis. Stat. §118.40(8). Under the statute, a virtual charter school is defined as a charter school under contract with a school board under Wis. Stat. §118.40 in which all or a portion of the instruction is provided through means of the Internet, and the pupils enrolled in and instructional staff employed by the school are geographically remote from each other. Wis. Stat. §§115.001, 118.40(8). If a school board contracts to establish a virtual charter school, that virtual charter school is considered to be located in the school district governed by that school board. Id. In this case, iForward is operated as a public virtual charter school under contract with the Grantsburg, Wisconsin district school board. See Grantsburg Schools District website (available at http://www.gk12.net/se3bin/clientschool.cgi?schoolname=school207 (last accessed April 16, 2014). Students wishing to apply to iForward must apply through the Grantsburg school district. See Wis. Stat. § 115.001, et seq.; Wisconsin Charter Schools Yearbook, 2013-14 (available at http://sms.dpi.wi.gov/files/sms/pdf/2013-14yearbook.pdf (last visited April 16, 2014)); Wisconsin Open Enrollment Application Process (available at https://apps4.dpi.wi.gov/Opal2012/FAQs.aspx (last visited April 16, 2014)).
Because iForward is a public school, we assume it is an EI unless there is evidence to the contrary. See POMS RS 00205.250B. In this case, there is no evidence contrary to iForward’s presumed nature as an EI. Each school year, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (Wisconsin DPI) publishes a “Charter Schools Yearbook” that identifies public charter schools in the State of Wisconsin that meet the statutory requirements, and that are authorized to enroll students under Wisconsin’s open enrollment procedures. iForward is included in the Wisconsin DPI Charter Schools Yearbook as a public virtual charter school operated by the Grantsburg School District, as a provider of education for grades 6-12. See http://sms.dpi.wi.gov/files/sms/pdf/2013-14yearbook.pdf. To be included in the yearbook, each academic year, all public virtual charter schools must certify to the Wisconsin DPI that the school meets the requirements of Wis. Stats. §§115.001 (16) and 118.40 (8). See Wisconsin DPI School District Virtual Charter School Identification Form (available at http://sms.dpi.wi.gov/files/sms/pdf/2014-15%20VCS%20Identification%20Form.pdf) (last visited April 16, 2014). iForward’s inclusion in the Charter Schools Yearbook confirms compliance with the statutory and regulatory requirements set forth by the State of Wisconsin.
Based on the foregoing, we conclude that iForward qualifies as an EI for purposes of awarding Child Insurance Benefits. The information available on iForward’s website, the Grantsburg School District website, and the Wisconsin DPI website demonstrate that iForward operates in compliance with Wisconsin law, and accordingly, that it meets the requirements of an EI for purposes of awarding child insurance benefits.
For the reasons discussed above, we find that iForward-Wisconsin’s Online Charter School qualifies as an educational institution, as sufficient evidence indicates that it is an institution that provides an education “as determined under the law of the State” of Wisconsin. In addition, we find that the claimant meets both the federal and state attendance requirements.
Donna L. Calvert
Regional Chief Counsel
You did not ask whether the claimant meets the attendance requirements. See42 U.S.C. §402(d)(1)(B) (requiring “full-time” attendance). In addition to attending a qualifying educational institution, a student must meet both state and federal attendance requirements.POMS RS 00205.300(A), Federal regulations provide at 20 C.F.R. §404.367 that a student attends full-time if his or her scheduled attendance is at least 20 hours per week in at least a 13-week course, barring certain exceptions. 20 C.F.R. §404.367(b), (c); see also POMS RS 00205.300. State attendance requirements are met if a student is considered full-time based on the school’s standards and practices. POMS RS 000205.300(B).On the SSA-1372-BK, Principal Billy certified that the claimant is scheduled to attend iForward for 30-40 hours per week, with a course of study of at least 13 weeks. While this certification did not offer any specific insight to iForward’s standards and practices regarding full-time status, Billy certified the claimant’s assertion that her attendance would be ‘full-time’ at 30-40 hours per week. As such, we can reasonably conclude that the claimant’s attendance at 30-40 hours per week is considered full-time attendance pursuant to iForward’s standards and practices. Accordingly, the claimant meets the requirements for “full-time” attendance under both the Federal and State standards.