Should Public Schools Be Required to Offer Online K-12 Education?

Starting next school year, the first generation of Florida students may earn a diploma from their public schools entirely online, without ever setting foot in a classroom from kindergarten through 12th grade. A new state law requires districts to create their own full-time virtual schools, collaborate with other districts or contract with providers approved by the state. Is this something all states should mandate?

This is one of those iceberg questions. You know, the ones where 9/10ths of the question is unseen below the water level. The answer to the top 10% of the question is "Of course! We want to offer our students every opportunity to get a quality education." Distance learning brings equity to our educational system. Every high school student in the state can have access to 5 foreign languages and 15 Advanced Placement classes, not just the students in wealthy urban districts.

What scares me, however, is the other 90% of the question that is below the waterline and not easy to see.

"A new state law requires districts to create their own full-time virtual schools."

I am not suspicious by nature, but this part sounds like one of those "fleecing of America" deals. Perhaps I am wrong and that this is not an unfunded mandate and that the state is ready to spend the millions upon millions of dollars it would take for every district to create a k-12 online school. If my state is any indication, the idea that districts would cooperate with each other in a joint effort to accomplish the task is out of the question. It has been unable to do so since Eugene Public School District 4j established the first online high school program in 1995. School Districts simply do not work and play well with others.

So, if the state legislatures do not intend to fund an online school in each district, and the districts do not have millions of dollars in the bank that they do not need for delivering basic services, what is the point of the legislation?

"contract with providers approved by the state."

Ah, there we have it. What entities have been spending millions and millions of dollars during the last decade to create k-12 online schools? It is the for-profit corporations like K12.com, Insight Schools, Connections Academy and several others who have finished their development of full time k-12 schools. These companies are operating in about 15 states and receive state tax dollars to deliver their services. That means that mom and dad can have a free online education for their children (including a complementary computer) or they can send their chlid to the local school for a face to face education. Clearly most parents would prefer the traditional school. But for every child who signs up for the online commercial version, the local schools loses the tax dollars for that student. If schools lose even 10% of their student bodies, they may close or have severe cutbacks.

In the ensuing battle for students, the for-profit corporations have one weapon that local schools, by law, cannot wield. They can make campaign contributions to their favorite state legislator. Are they making contributions now? Yes. Who and how much? I do not know.

What I do know is that these for-profit schools are starting to make a lot of Return On their multi-millions dollar Investments.

"After two straight years of turning a profit and three years of enrollment growth, K12 Inc., an online education company, is planning an IPO of 6 million shares. The company generated revenue of $59.35 million in the third quarter, up 57 percent from the same period last year."

 

- Washington Business Journal 11/07

If the reader has a bit of extra cash, now may be a good time to invest. As of this writing K12 inc was trading at $24.95 per share down from a 52-week high of $31. What a bargain.

Let's see, 6,000,000 shares at $25 per share . . . carry the "3" ... rounding off ... thats $150,000,000 for future operations. Did I get that right? Math was never my best subject.

In February 2005, Tom Layton joined our extended network of alumni.