Virtual School Closure a Real Loss for Missouri
If a successful, low-cost, cutting-edge school in Missouri were being shut down midway through the school year, leaving thousands of students without feasible educational alternatives, the state would see an uproar. But recent budget cuts to Missouri’s virtual school program will bring essentially the same result, with little backlash.
The virtual school spent $5.8 million last year to educate 2,500 students. That comes to approximately $2,300 per student. The Salem R-80 district, which spent $5,418.37 per student in 2008, had the lowest per-student cost in Missouri. While some of the program’s online students are taking only supplemental classes, Missouri’s virtual education program is still one of the most cost-effective “schools” in the state.
The state’s budget cuts will necessitate that the program close at the end of the semester, leaving some students a few credits away from graduation. This cessation of the full program comes after its budget had already been scaled back earlier this year. From the Post-Dispatch:
Because of budget troubles, lawmakers already had scaled back the virtual school this year to a $4.8 million program serving 1,600 kids who enrolled on a first-come, first-serve basis.
About 2,000 were turned away when the free slots filled up.
Missouri’s students should not be denied the unique opportunities that virtual schooling provides. Although budget costs are necessary, the state’s virtual school was a very cost-effective program in comparison to existing public education. It supplemented traditional schools and home schooling for some, and allowed sick children who were unable to function in crowded classrooms to continue their educations.
The virtual school program is like a charter school for rural Missouri, where the charters do not exist. It provides an innovative learning experience, giving kids an alternative to traditional school. In this way, it both competes and meshes with the traditional school experience to give students a better learning experience. (Read these posts by Sarah Brodsky to find out more about the benefits and challenges of online schools.)
Missouri spends $5.4 billion on primary and secondary education; can it not find the few million necessary to educate students in an innovative, cost-effective manner?