Mike Klein Online

Will Supreme Court Decide Georgia Virtual School Funding?

Georgia education headlines are too often made for wrong reasons.  National test scores that disappoint, high schools that under perform and the Atlanta public schools cheating scandal do nothing to recommend Georgia as forward thinking and a place to create a business and raise a family.  Embracing an aggressive plan to fast forward online education would seem like a no-brainer.

Last week two major online education companies said they will cancel plans to operate Georgia online high schools.  Provost Academy and Kaplan Academy believe they cannot operate on $3,500 per pupil funding from the Georgia Charter School Commission.  Those funds would have been state dollars; no local education dollars would follow the student.

Like brick and mortar charter schools, online education companies that want to establish a Georgia foothold face many challenges to win their place at the education banquet.  Both are asking for the right to earn a just small piece of the 1.65 million students in Georgia.

On one level this is about funding. On another level the substantial question is whether Georgia is ready to embrace innovative education platforms that supplement traditional classrooms.  If so, Georgia becomes a national leader.  If not, Georgia becomes a national laggard.

Sixty thousand students in brick and mortar charters and 6,000 in private online education are no threat to traditional public schools, but the message we are sending is tepid, at best.

Brick and mortar charter schools must wait for the Georgia Supreme Court to decide whether local education dollars should follow a pupil who leaves traditional school for a charter.  Several school systems, including Atlanta, DeKalb and Gwinnett, sued this year to prevent local dollars from following the student.  They lost, so they appealed to the Supreme Court.

Online educators are asking for thousands less per pupil than traditional government public school districts receive in state, local, federal and all other dollars.  But like brick and mortar charter schools, they have to fight for even a reasonable percentage of what regular public schools already receive.

Georgia traditional brick and mortar public schools on average received $8,261 per pupil in general fund state, local and other education dollars during the 2008-2009 school year, the last year for which figures have been reported.

National per pupil compensation to online schools varies widely. Provost Academy Georgia and Kaplan Academy of Georgia would have received approximately $3,500 per online high school pupil.  Edison Learning, the parent company to Provost Academy, said last week that Georgia funding is not enough “to adequately and appropriately educate students.”

Renee Lord is President of Georgia Families for Virtual Education.  She said the national per pupil compensation average is closer to $6,000 to $6,500.  Lord said, “It is real challenging for a school to offer a quality education for the level of funding the state is offering.”  The Commission has said it will discuss online school funding policy at its August 19 meeting.

Ryan Mahoney is board chairman for Georgia Cyber Academy, the largest and currently the only online K-8 school in Georgia with 6,000 students. Mahoney is also public policy director for the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, where education is among several issues he considers.

Mahoney predicted the Georgia Supreme Court charter school funding decision expected this fall or next year will be an important milestone to determine how online schools are funded.

“Judge (Wendy) Shoob clearly found in favor of (charter) schools.  Money follows the child,” Mahoney said. “The same in our judgment would apply to virtual schools.  If you are no longer in a brick and mortar school, the money should also follow the student.”

Georgia struggles to overcome a perception that education here is backward and too many students are unprepared to join the rapidly changing economy.   The message was reinforced this week when the state reported 67% of Georgia high schools and 29% of all schools failed to make Adequate Yearly Progress under federal No Child Left Behind guidelines.

The opportunity is here for Georgia to embrace public and private online instruction as partners to strong traditional public school systems.  Online learning is the future.  You can embrace the future or you can be left behind.

Mike Klein writes about education and other issues as Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.

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July 20, 2010 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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