The interesting sidebar to all this research and politicking is that one traveler in the free-market schooling campaign is shooting another fellow traveler in the foot. At the same time that the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation is putting out research claiming that cyberschools cost 30% less than brick-and-mortar schools, companies like K12 Inc. are trying to convince legislators around the country that the difference is zero, i.e., that the charter school should be reimbursed at 100% the cost of educating a pupil in a brick-and-mortar school.
In 2010, the Georgia State Commission on Charter Schools established a funding level of $3,500 per full-time K-12 pupil in online charters, plus a 3% administrative fee. Testifying in favor of 100% funding, one Allison Powell, vice president of the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (a lobbying front for the big cyberschooling companies) claimed, “The costs are pretty equal to a lot of brick and mortar schools. You don’t have the transportation or building costs, but you still have to provide Internet and computers. You have personnel. A lot of states will fund them at the same level.”
In truth, there are hardly any states that fund cybercharters at the level of funding for brick-and-mortar schools. But that is not to say that the companies are not trying. A bill currently making its way through the Arizona legislature would increase cybercharter per pupil funding to 100% state allocation provided a few easy hurdles are cleared: 50% for all students enrolled on October 1, 35% more for all who finish the year, and the final 15% for all those who pass an achievement test. The bill looks like it was written by lobbyists, who reluctantly, perhaps, acceded to pressure to add some symbolic "accountability" features.
Gene V Glass
University of Colorado Boulder
Arizona State University