I first save this entry back in August 2010, I suspect after I came across an article entitled Pa. Districts Pay for Growing Use of Cyber Schools (which interestingly was originally titled “Cost of Cyber Charter Schools Going Up as Popularity Increases”). This means that I found this article and wanted to comment on it, so I copied and pasted the URL into a draft entry and just didn’t find the time to get back around to it until now. The article looked at the issue of how the funding for cyber charter schools (and to a lesser extent charter schools in general) costs the schools who were losing the students. The basic premise, one that I have made before, was that if a school lost 30 students it represented roughly one full class or 30 x FTE. The problem is that those 30 students don’t all come from the same class so the school can’t simply cut one section of everything. Often a lose of 30 students means that the school loses 3 kindergarten students, 5 grade one students, 4 grade two students, 1 grade three student, and so on… What that means is that the school still has to run the same number of classes of kindergarten, grade one, grade two, grade three, and so on; but with less funding. The result of that is cuts! Cuts to the services provided to these students! Cuts to the co-curriular and extra-curricular activities that can be funded! Simply put, it means that students who remain at that school are disadvantaged because their fellow students chose to attend the cyber charter school. I describe what the article said and why it caught my attention. Up until recently, most proponents of K-12 online learning – and cyber charter schooling in general – have tried to make the case that these programs needed the same level of funding as brick-and-mortar schooling. I’ve been writing for some time about the fact that the limited evidence that we have indicates that it is less expensive to education a student full-time online and that the groups arguing for equal funding were those who either had or who’s members had something to gain economically from the issue. I should note that recently others have started to come around to my position (including some neo-liberal/conservative organizations).
Six or eight now later, the Erie Times-News took a more in depth look at this issue and examined how this uneven lose of students affected a single school district in Times In-Depth: A look at funding for online charter schools. I came across this second news item while the first one was still sitting as a draft entry, as they both interested me for the same reason I simply copied and pasted the URL to that same draft hoping to circle back to the entry soon now that I was starting to get a collection of items to comment on. What I find interesting about the article is that Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School chief executive (note that it is not called a principal), Nick Trombetta, is quoted as saying “This year we borrowed $21 million to operate, and we’ll be lucky to be balanced at the end of the year,” Trombetta said. “We aren’t a moneymaking machine.” I find this interesting because the school’s own Wikipedia entry reports that “In 2010, the school reported an Unreserved – Undesignated Fund balance of $2,406,089 and a Reserved – Undesignated Fund balance of $11,415,257.” This is money that was collected based on student FTEs, but not spent on actually providing an education for those students. Further, only a year later we get all kinds of news about the FBI having raided the offices of this cyber charter school and Mr. Trombetta “suspected of misusing Pennsylvania tax dollars to fund his out-of-state ventures.” But its not a moneymaking machine… :) This was just too juicy a tidbit of information to ignore. I suspect the original reason I saved this news item was because of the details that were consistent with what I described in the first paragraph (i.e., the impact of losing students to a cyber charter school). However, the fact that the specific cyber charter school person interviewed was claiming poverty and is not under investigation for using all of the profits he was making to illegally fund his other business ventures was simply something I had to point out – mainly because it is a perfect example of what is happening with the lack of oversight that occurs when we allow for-profit companies to run schools like a business.
The bottom line here, as it is in every jurisdiction, is that it costs less to educate a student full-time online than it does in the face-to-face classroom. Where does that extra money go? Well, some of it goes into that glitzy advertising that you see all over the place trying to attract more and more students to the cyber charter school. But a lot of that money goes into the pockets of the for-profit companies that are behind most of these cyber charter schools. When efforts are made to try and limit the funding provided to full-time cyber charter schools, some of that money even goes to fighting against such measures. This is written in a more direct, challenging way. This is part of the entry that I am hoping would generate comments, as this is where the research – which is my own background – is quite clear.
In the end, it is the students that lose out. The students attending the cyber charter schools are being robbed of whatever opportunities an extra 30% funding would provide to them. The students who are left in the brick-and-mortar schools are robbed through the cuts I described above. Who wins in this situation? Well, the robbers of course! Those for-profit companies that are pillaging public education to line the pockets of corporate executives and corporate shareholders. The funny thing is not only do Americans continue to allow this to happen, but most states are moving to expand the ability for the robbers to profit. Again, written in more than a direct – some would say slanted – language. Again, designed to elicit a response from the readers.
In light of the Trombetta investigation, it appears that the issue of the funding provided to cyber charter schools is again on the agenda. Maybe Pennsylvania will begin to take steps to limit the robber’s ability (as I know they won’t stop the theft from occurring in the first place). Trying to close the entry by bringing it back around to the main issue of the post, but with some emotive language included to make sure people don’t forget to hit the comment button.
Note that one of the best academic considerations of this issue in the State of Pennsylvania continues to be:
Carr-Chellman, A. A., & Marsh, R. M. (2009). Pennsylvania cyber school funding: Follow the money. TechTrends, 53(4), 49-55. As there is a specific research article on the issue of cyber charter school funding in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, I thought it appropriate to include.
In terms of the specific items listed in the Week 5 Activity:
- First, decide what you actually want to write. This is often why many of my entries like this one sit for so long. I first saved this draft back on 08 August 2010. That’s over two years ago. Had I wrote the entry back then, it would have likely been the same length, but would have had a slightly different focus. While the time to sit down and craft the entry is an issue (e.g., it took me about 90 minutes to write this original entry and another 30 minutes to write this decoding of it), I think when I first saved the news item it was because I wanted to write an entry about (as I have written several of these entries in the past – see below for the list) and I needed to have more resources to be able to fully dissect the issue.
- Make sure you’re interested in what you’re writing. This is a tricky one for me, as I’m interested in everything to do with K-12 distance education (and my publishing record shows the variety of topics in this field that I have studied). The problem for me is that blogging occupies a great deal of my time (the one time I tracked it for a month I spent an average of 36 hours a week working on my blog). This may be why I have 14 saved draft entries that were in the same position as this one still in my pending list.
- Stop everything else and concentrate on writing Again, this is a time issue. This afternoon (i.e., Monday afternoon when I am writing this) I should have been preparing text for my annual State of the Nation report that is due later this week or editing the report on how unions have reacted to K-12 online learning around the world that is overdue. However, I spent two hours this afternoon working on these two entries so that they can be posted Tuesday morning (as I know when the holiday ends, things will be even busier for me).
- Lower your standards. This is the one thing that I have gotten good at. Once upon a time I would have spent significant time dissecting how the uneven lose of students affects a school or incorporating Ali’s TechTrends article into the entry or discussing the specific research about how full-time online learning is cheaper. At the same time, I still felt the need to spend an extra 10 minutes searching for the entries below. So I could do better on this front.
Similar entries from the past:
- Funding Virtual Schools – Part One
- Funding Virtual Schools – Georgia Edition
- Funding Virtual Schools – Georgia Edition (Part Two)
- Funding Virtual Schools – Georgia Edition (Part Three)
- Funding Virtual Schools – Georgia Edition (Part Four)
- Funding Virtual Schools – Michigan Edition
- Funding Virtual Schools – North Carolina Edition
- Funding And Legislative Issues In Ohio For K-12 Online Learning