Cyber school defenders too transparent
Gov. Rick Snyder has tried the past two years to take some of the profit out of online “cyber” charter schools. Storefront cyber academies exist mainly to make their operators wealthy while providing little education and less hope of success. At the same time, they get the same per-pupil funding as traditional K-12 schools.
Earlier this year, Snyder suggested the only way to boost funding for traditional schools might be to reduce funding for cyber schools. He argued, reasonably, that storefront cyber schools don’t have the same costs as traditional schools — and he was being nice about it. Cyber schools don’t have bus, infrastructure, school lunch, heating or other costs of a traditional brick-and-mortar school district. Many barely have teacher costs.
Average student-teacher ratios for for-profit virtual schools in Michigan are an unfathomable 146-to-1. Nonprofit cyber schools, such as those run by some Blue Water Area school districts, have rations closer to 40-to-1. Traditional schools average 23-to-1, and many suggest that is too high, especially in the lower grades.
And the results are exactly as expected. Graduation rates are a third of traditional schools and standardized test scores are abysmal.
But there is big money in cyber schools and other charter academies, and where there is profit, there are lobbyists to protect it. Lawmakers wouldn’t agree to taking money away from cyber academies.
State Department of Education officials figured out a different way to do it, though. Buried within the set of rules for counting how many students attend is a new provision that requires cyber academy students to attend school all year. Remember, counting students is a big deal. They’re worth an average $8,343 a head. They are even more valuable if you can teach 146 of them with one teacher.
Although the provision seems reasonable, remember that students in traditional K-12 schools aren’t exactly required to attend school all year. They can miss quite a few days, in fact, just as long as they are in their seats on the fall and spring count days — which is why school districts have prizes and pizza on those days.
Still, there needs to be something to hold cyber academies accountable both for the tax dollars they syphon out of traditional schools and for their dismal results.
State Sen. Phil Pavlov is not proposing a solution. He’s only demanding that the Department of Education roll back the attendance requirement for cyber academies. He and his counterpart in the House argue the change “will harm families” because cyber charters won’t take students they can’t make money on.
He ignores the harm done by diverting money from real classrooms to line the pockets of cyber school sharks.
— Times Herald (Port Huron)