Friday, August 6, 2010

Parents to Charter School Commission: Obey the Law on Virtual School Funding

/PRNewswire/ -- A coalition representing more than 5,000 public virtual charter school students, parents, teachers, and supporters from across Georgia charged the state's Charter School Commission (Commission) with ignoring state law by refusing to create a funding formula based on sound research and actual costs of public virtual charter schools. As a result, for the third consecutive year, over 6,000 students in Georgia's public online schools will receive only a fraction of funds the law provides for their education.

Georgia Families for Public Virtual Education released a letter today demanding the Commission immediately reconsider its decision to fund virtual public school students at one-third of the allotment of other public school students. Students at traditional brick-and-mortar public schools and brick-and-mortar charter schools receive an average of $8,800 per pupil. The letter, penned by Georgia attorney Douglas Rosenbloom, requests a meeting with the Commission to review the arbitrary and unexplained decision to fund virtual public school students at less than $3,200.

"In 2008, the Legislature passed and Governor Perdue signed HB 881, mandating public funds follow each student from one public school to another, ensuring every public school student receives fair and equitable funding," said Renee Lord, President of the Georgia Families for Public Virtual Education and parent of a student at Georgia Cyber Academy (GCA), the only statewide virtual charter school.

"Students in public charter schools-both brick-and-mortar and virtual-were promised full and fair funding," Lord continued. "We expected the Commission, which was itself created by HB 881, to follow the law, do the research, and provide our students and teachers the resources they need and deserve. Instead, the Commission members chose to ignore the law, ignore the data, forget about research, and deny our schools the funds they need-funds that already exist in the system but are still being sent to the public schools our children previously attended."

"We are asking the Commission to do the right thing, look at the research and actual costs of fulltime virtual charter schools. Set a funding formula that allows some of the funds already allocated for our students to follow them to their new public school. It may be too late to open any new public virtual schools for the upcoming school year. But the Commission can and should ensure students at the state's only operating statewide virtual public school finally get the fair and equitable funding promised by the law."

In the letter to the Commission, attorney Rosenbloom notes that, under HB 881, a virtual charter school student's funding could be reduced only if the Commission followed a four-step process that included research and study into the actual costs of virtual education and identified any specific savings or efficiencies unique to the virtual education model.

"The 2008 passage of House Bill 881, which created the Commission as a charter schools authorizer, had the explicit purpose of providing equitable funding for charter school students. The average per pupil funding in Georgia for traditional brick-and-mortar schools is $8,800. The Commission announced last month to provide only $3,200 per pupil. This decision, it appears, was not supported by any legitimate cost study. In response to [the Coalition's] request for the basis of this funding decision, the Commission has provided only a one-page spreadsheet reflecting no research or investigation into virtual education costs... We hope the Commission (1) reconsiders its unwise funding decision and (2) re-visits its illegal and incomprehensible decision-making process."

According to Rosenbloom, the Commission conducted no analysis of "actual costs" or "efficiencies" to support its low funding decision for virtual charter schools. The result, he concludes, is a new school year beginning without any new public virtual school options in Georgia. Last month, two virtual charter schools withdrew their applications following the Commission's decision to provide inadequate funding.

Students at GCA will be under-funded for the third year in a row; they currently receive around $3,200 per pupil. While they await the additional funding promised by HB 881, school officials have been forced to increase class sizes and eliminate art, music, and foreign language classes from the planned curriculum. Despite funding challenges, GCA continues to make significant gains in student achievement, outperforming Georgia state (brick-and-mortar school) averages.

Rosenbloom points out that despite common misconceptions that quality virtual schools are significantly less costly than brick-and-mortar schools, data-driven research concludes the costs of operating a virtual school are about the same as those of a regular brick-and-mortar school.

He adds that none of the virtual charter school applicants, nor the state's existing Georgia Cyber Academy, ever requested the full funding allocation available under the law. Most of the new applicants, as well as Georgia Cyber Academy, have sought to operate at around two-thirds of the full funding legally available-around $6,500 per pupil.

GCA, the only statewide virtual charter, teaches 6,000 students and is the largest public school (brick-and-mortar or virtual charter) in Georgia. The Academy also looks to add ninth grade in August with approximately 600 new students.

Virtual public charter schools are statewide, full-time public schools that employ state-certified public school teachers to oversee and guide students' work. Under this program students are able to work at home via computer and Internet connection under the guidance of a parent or responsible adult.

Accountability requirements are the same for virtual public charters as for every public school in the state. Students participate in state assessment tests and are required to meet attendance protocol. The school uses an established curriculum that consists of thousands of lessons in the typical core subjects that align with state standards and all of the teachers are also publicly certified.

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