Mike Klein Online

Georgia High School Students Lose Two Online Education Options

This article was published by the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.

Georgia high school students who would like to pursue full-time online education options may have seen their hopes diminished this week.  Two companies that were approved to open online high schools in August will cancel because they believe the financial model offered by the state does not work.  This is a punch to the gut for advocates of online education in Georgia.

Last month the Georgia Charter School Commission approved Kaplan Academy of Georgia and Provost Academy Georgia with the understanding that coursework costs would need to fit into available state funding, estimated at about $3,500 per pupil.  Provost planned to enroll 800 high school students and Kaplan planned 460 students.

Provost Academy Georgia is a project of New York-based Edison Learning. Speaking from his New York office, Edison spokesman Michael Serpe explained the decision to withdraw.  “It’s very simple.  Based on our original application, per pupil funding is dramatically lower than what we originally expected even when our application went in over one year ago.”

My inquires to Kaplan Academy of Georgia on behalf of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation were not returned, but its decision to withdraw was confirmed by Executive Director Mark Peevy at the Georgia Charter School Commission.   Kaplan Academy is a project of Hollywood, Florida-based Kaplan Virtual Education, which is a major player in online education.

Withdrawal by Kaplan and Provost is a two-fold shock to the system.  It immediately reduces online school options for Georgia high schoolers.  It also sends a message to other companies that working with Georgia is at your own peril until the state can figure out its funding models.

“I think all of them would take a hard look at what we’ve done and try to understand the decisions,” Peevy said. “We’ve had two credible companies who want to be in the market say we can’t do it for what you offer.  This challenges us to put out the right numbers.”

Kaplan, Provost, Connections Academy and Mercury Online Academy were four among five companies that sought charter school commission permission to operate online high schools in Georgia next year.  Connections and Mercury petitions were denied last month.

Georgia Cyber Academy is a fifth major online education player and it is the state’s last chance to offer online ninth grade this fall.  Georgia Cyber operates Odyssey School for elementary and middle school virtual students.  With some 6,000 students Odyssey is the largest public school of any kind in Georgia, brick and mortar or virtual.

Georgia Cyber is beginning the second year of a two-year contract with the state Department of Education.  Matt Arkin, head of school at Georgia Cyber, said the Academy is preparing an amendment request that would permit it to open a ninth grade this August.  The Academy will request permission to enroll 600 students.

Traditional brick and mortar education is funded by state dollars and local dollars generated by county property taxes and other sources.  The most recent Department of Education report said the statewide average payment to brick and mortar schools was $8,261 per pupil, covering more than 1.6 million students enrolled during the 2008-2009 academic year.

Full-time online school charter funding fluctuates widely nationally.  Pennsylvania has paid up to $8,100 per student, according to a Georgia Cyber Academy analysis.   Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Nevada, Ohio, Oregon, Texas, Utah and Wisconsin provide between $5,000 and $7,500 per pupil.  South Carolina is on the low end at about $3,300 per pupil.

Last month the Charter School Commission approved only state dollars for Kaplan and Provost.  Peevy said payments would have been about $3,500 per student, which both online education companies decided is not enough to offset their costs.  Arkin said he believes Georgia Cyber would receive about $3,300 state dollars for each ninth grade student.

“There is a perception that virtual schools don’t have costs,” Arkin said.  “We certainly don’t have some costs that brick and mortar schools have, but we have costs that they don’t have to bear.  I do think there is an opportunity to have the state save money through virtual education, but this isn’t free and doing it cheap, it’s the families that get penalized.”

The Georgia Cyber request to operate a virtual ninth grade is expected to be an agenda item at the state Board of Education meeting on Wednesday August 18.   Peevy said the Charter School Commission will discuss Kaplan and Provost next steps on Thursday August 19.

Peevy also predicted the next governor and legislature will need to focus on virtual education funding models.  “I think we can turn this into a positive,” Peevy said, “and have it be a step in the right direction as opposed to a false start.”

Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.

July 14, 2010 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , ,

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