House Common Education Committee Meeting discusses charter schools

OKLAHOMA CITY - Three major studies were discussed at Wednesday's Common Education meeting: brick and mortar charter school funding, real cost per student for virtual schools as opposed to brick and mortar, and finally charter school sponsor oversight responsibilities.

One of the main questions discussed: what is that real cost per student for virtual schools, as opposed to students who attend brick and mortar buildings?

Without buses, utilities, and sports equipment studies say the cost for a virtual school student should be significantly cheaper.

Some virtual school leaders say that's not necessarily the case.

Virtual schools argue they have extra technology and travel costs.

"One of the topics in today’s study was about the real cost of educating a virtual student because there’s a mindset among some people that it must cost less because everything is being done through a computer and that’s not necessarily the case. We have operational costs that are unique to our model. We have our teachers travel to our students, we have to lease facilities statewide, so students have a place to meet with their teachers and so we have a place to conduct state testing. Those are some examples of a unique cost to virtual school that a traditional school doesn’t have ... just like they have costs that are unique to their models,” said Asst. Superintendent for Epic Charter Schools Shelly Hickman.

Sen. Ron Sharp expressed worries the state is buying laptops and not getting them back.

He says 6,000 are missing.

“I hope this is something that lawmakers continue to ask more information about because we’re really eager to share with them what the real cost of educating a virtual student are,” said Hickman.

Sharp also says the state pays for students who enroll in online learning, but don't complete the coursework.

"If we would fund like we do in Florida, as the child goes into the virtual course and as he progresses the vendor is paid as the child progresses. Upon the completion of the course, the vendor is paid. Therefore, it gives the impetus for both the vendor to make sure the child is progressing, and of course, the child is also rewarded because that’s when they get the credit from the course,” said Sen. Sharp.

Sharp also emphasized the problem of students double enrolled in a virtual school, and also private or home-school.

"We’re double-counting kids it appears right now and we’re not making any effort in which to eliminate that,” he said.

Another topic discussed was attendance, and what that looks like for virtual school students.

“Speakers talked about how there’s not a uniform definition of attendance. For instance, you might have a student in a traditional school district who shows up every single day, they’re there every single day but they’re not engaging in any student work. They’re not handing in any assignments, so are they in attendance or are they not in attendance?” said Hickman.

Hickman says right now, they follow the law on how to keep track of attendance.

"We are ready and poised to have further discussions with lawmakers about attendance if they want to have those discussions," she said. "But right now we follow the law and make sure that students perform the required number of assignments and if they don’t we withdraw them from our school just like the state law tells us we have to do."

Senator Sharp also commenting on virtual school attendance, saying the policy doesn't work.

“We cannot have an attendance policy based on logging into a computer, 40 assignments, and a 44 day quarter period that doesn’t work," said Sen. Sharp.

One thing everyone agreed on, virtual schools are growing.

“We need to make sure that a child is progressing through the course. We need virtual education there’s no doubt about it that’s the world we live in today, but it needs to be accountable and transparent on how the money is spent,” said Sen. Sharp.

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