Online Education Can Be a Boon for Districts
A school district in Michigan finds that partnering with K12, Inc. is beneficial both to students and to the districts’ finances. The director of the district’s virtual academy describes its profitability with candor:
“The district makes money whether we enroll one student or 160,” Prescott said. “K12, Inc. charges a fee for each course. It might be $400 a semester. For a student who takes six classes for both semesters, that’s $4,800 a year. We count that student as full time and we get $7,000 from the state, which nets the district about $2,000 per student.”
I wonder whether the St. Louis Public Schools’ Virtual School, which also contracts with K12, is equally lucrative. I would guess not, because SLPS requires students to meet with a district teacher in person at regular intervals. Those meetings could bring up staff costs.
Given that districts can earn a profit from teaching students online, why don’t more of them form virtual schools? I can suggest a couple of explanations. Most districts probably don’t know much about online courses or what they could gain by enrolling students in them. Until recently, distance learning was the domain of old-fashioned correspondence schools, online charter schools, and state-level virtual schools. Traditional districts weren’t involved. Districts are used to a system in which they get revenue based on how many students are sitting in classrooms. The concept of earning more by sending students to a different environment goes against their experience.
It could also be that some districts view virtual schools as an admission of failure. If students choose virtual instruction over in-class learning, maybe that means that the brick-and-mortar component of the district wasn’t so great all along. I don’t think that’s an accurate analysis, because no single educational method is right for everyone. But I can see how districts might reach that conclusion in a school system of few choices.