Enrollment Soars at Virtual Charter Schools, Critics Say They Are Doing ‘Dramatically Worse’ | Colorado to D.C.


When the coronavirus pandemic hit usa, traditional brick and mortar schools were forced to pivot online learning. Days turned into months and, in some cases, years – with millions of students and their parents left to fend for themselves. As schools reopened, fearful parents frustrated with their school’s access to remote learning began looking for other options, such as virtual learning charter schools .

Attracted by advertising campaigns full of promises of specialized learning, hundreds of thousands of parents have enrolled their children, making this option widespread.

“It was a great option because [my child] has a learning disability and it allowed him to go at his own pace,” Maryland mother Julie Parsons told the Washington Examiner.

Cyber ​​charter schools have been around for about 20 years, but have grown in popularity during the pandemic. Today, it’s one of the most controversial school choice options available, and at times pits parents and businesses against taxpayers and policymakers.

These virtual schools operate across the country and allow students to take their courses from home and on the Internet. They are available to students as long as they reside in the state in which the school operates.

Proponents, such as Sharon Sedlar, mother of six and founder of PA Families for Education Choice, say the schools are offering a more flexible schedule and a tailored experience for students who don’t enjoy or excel in traditional classrooms or have other types of problems, such as attendance.

“I thought I was going to be a district student until my kids were done, but you never know you need choice until you really need it,” she said. declared to Washington Examiner. “And then another part of your heart opens up to those other kids who need other opportunities through no fault of their own. It’s not the district’s fault that they couldn’t serve my child. It’s a multi-layered and multi-faceted problem. Parties are so steeped in their own opinions and what they think is fair for all children that they don’t allow parents to make the right choices for their own children.”

However, critics say virtual charter schools are too expensive, redundant, and offer little to no real value. There are also concerns about the lack of information about curricula, student-teacher ratios and the amount of actual teaching that takes place.

While some of these online schools are private and fee-based, the majority are public schools, which means they are free for families but paid for by taxpayers.

According to the National Education Policy Center, there were approximately 300,000 full-time students in cyber charter schools in the 2017-2018 school year. This number has increased significantly over the past two years. According to the Digital Learning Collaborative, the number of students enrolled in K-12 online schools in the 2018-2019 school year was 375,000, with more than 60% for-profit.

This number has increased to 656,000 students in the 2020-2021 school year and is expected to increase further when enrollment figures are known for the 2022-2023 school year.

The North Carolina Virtual Academy and the North Carolina Cyber ​​Academy both accepted more students than allowed under state law for the 2022-2023 school year. The State Board of Education voted in early August to let the additional 950 students stay.

As the popularity of these schools continues to soar, concerns and efforts to shut them down are also increasing.

The Government Accountability Office released a report earlier this year detailing issues with students attending for-profit virtual charter schools full-time, which included financial risk, attendance issues and low levels of achievement compared to to students in traditional public schools. The study was demanded by the senses. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Patty Murray (D-WA) following a 2018 report from the Center for American Progress that showed K12, Inc., the largest for-profit virtual school operator in the country, spent more than $15 million on top five executives in 2016, while virtual charter schools performed “significantly worse” than students receiving in-person learning.

Over the past few years, Pennsylvania has become ground zero in the war on virtual charter schools.

The state already had the highest enrollment rate in the nation, but then grew by an additional 22,619 students during the pandemic. Districts spent more than $1 billion annually on students enrolled in the state’s 14 cyber charter schools in 2020-21, which is a $335 million increase from before the pandemic . Districts now cite tuition as their top budget pressure, said David Lapp, director of policy research at Research for Action in Philadelphia.

“Cybercharter tuition is probably the most inefficient expense in funding Pennsylvania schools,” he wrote. “On the one hand, the cyber-charter system is redundant. Before and since the pandemic, most school districts continue to offer their own virtual schools. require districts to pay for cyber charters more than it actually costs to operate virtual schools.And finally, when students leave for virtual charter schools, districts must, of course, continue to operate their own schools brick and mortar for the remaining students only now with fewer resources.

Despite the backlash, cyber charter school advocates told the Washington Examiner they do not fall without a fight.

“Nobody wants to hear someone else what to do with their child,” Sedlar said. “These are personal family decisions, directed by the parents.”

She added: “We are the ones who calm their fears. We are the ones they sleep with at night. We are the ones who take them to the doctor. We choose what they eat at the grocery store. So, why can’t we choose the model of education that best suits them?”

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