Virtual Learning: Beyond Brick and Mortar
In recent years, federal, state, and local governments have spent increasing amounts of taxpayer money on Missouri’s public schools. Analysis of Missouri spending and test data, however, finds no relationship between increases in per-pupil expenditures and increases in student achievement. While many well-intentioned reform efforts have been unsuccessful — such as decreased class size and adopting a uniform set of curriculum standards — a few reforms have been effective.
A better education reform strategy, according to education experts Rick Hess, director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, and Eric Hanushek, senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, is to allow free competition among schools for students. Such competition would allow schools that provide a quality education to flourish while punishing schools that provide a poor education.
A review of all available empirical studies of school voucher programs — a school choice policy that allows students to take public dollars with them to schools that they choose — found that the majority of studies showed that voucher programs improved student outcomes and public schools. Unfortunately, education vouchers are not a viable option in Missouri because they might violate the state constitution’s Blaine Amendment.
Increased choice frequently produces cost savings. In Washington D.C., for example, charter school students are outperforming traditional public schools while operating at a per-pupil cost of $11,000, compared to the $17,000 per-pupil expenditure of traditional public schools. Options are limited in Missouri because state law restricts the creation of charter schools to the cities of Saint Louis and Kansas City.
Furthermore, Missouri has many rural areas without a critical mass of students to support the infrastructure of multiple schools. In fact, two-thirds of Missouri’s school districts have fewer than 1,000 students.
For students whose educational choices are limited by geography, restrictive laws, financial constraints, or some combination of the three, a new approach is necessary to give them the benefits of educational competition and course diversity. Virtual schools and distance learning can offer these benefits to nearly all of Missouri’s students.