Our recent report on virtual schools has created a lot of buzz. By and large, the report has been well-received from the likes of respected media outlets such as EdWeek. Yet some advocates of virtual schools are not as keen on our findings. While they found little to dispute in terms of our findings on achievement, or (often) lack of achievement , there has been the consistent line from advocates that most virtual schools receive less money per student than traditional brick and mortar schools — as if that were unfair.
But I ask, isn’t that to be expected? Virtual schools typically don’t have the same costs as traditional brick and mortar schools. For example, virtual schools don’t have to pay for a building and all the utilities that go along with running it.
And it’s not just about the capital costs. Virtual schools typically don’t provide the same services as brick and mortar schools. This is why Pennsylvania provides less funding to virtual schools. As a matter of fact, virtual schools in PA receive the same funding as brick and mortar schools minus the funding for services virtual schools don’t provide, such as:
- Adult education programs
- Junior/community college programs
Not only that, but brick and mortar schools provide a number of extracurricular activities that virtual schools typically do not such as athletics, theater, band, and community service clubs, all of which add significant costs to brick and mortar schools’ budgets.
So when advocates of virtual schools point out that they receive less funding than brick and mortar schools, you now know this is not because of unfair funding practices but because they are not providing the same services as brick and mortar schools.
This is why there needs to be better accounting for how much it actually costs virtual schools to educate students. Virtual schools deserve the funds needed to adequately educate their students just as brick and mortar schools do. Not knowing what that amount is hampers everyone’s efforts. How much does not having a building, extracurricular activities, or other functions affect the bottom line? Are we over- or under-paying these schools? Let’s find out. —Jim Hull