I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Virtual Rip-Off

The questions about virtual charter schools continue to pile up. One proposed charter is especially troubling, because it looks to more than double its costs to the taxpayers for no apparent reason.

NJ Spotlight reports on the application:
A fourth school that K12 is involved with, the New Jersey Virtual Charter School, an online high school for at-risk students in Monmouth County, is asking the state for another year to recruit students before it opens in 2013. K12 would be providing its curriculum, but the school would be operated by the Monmouth-Ocean Special Services Commission. [emphasis mine]
Wait a minute: Monmouth-Ocean Educational Services Commission wants approval for a virtual charter school? That makes no sense; they already run a virtual school:
The New Jersey Virtual School (NJVS), operated by the Monmouth-Ocean Educational Services Commission, is the oldest and largest statewide, online option for education in New Jersey. The NJVS has offered online courses successfully for middle school and high school students since 2002. 
More than 250 New Jersey public, private and charter schools have used NJVS courses to provide quality online educational opportunities to their students. NJVS has partnerships with two programs: Florida Virtual School (FLVS) and Pearson Digital Learning. The curriculum of the New Jersey Virtual School offers more than 40 secondary courses in Art/Visual Art, English, World Languages, Health/Physical Education, Mathematics, Science and Social Studies. Financial Literacy is the newest course added to the curriculum. The NJVS core courses are approved by the National Collegiate Athletic Association. The New Jersey Virtual School also offers Advanced Placement courses that are approved by the College Board AP Audit. [emphasis mine]
So MOESC already offers on-line learning for at-risk youth. How much does it cost?
The cost for taking New Jersey Virtual School courses varies. Districts pay anywhere between $220 to $650 per student per course, depending on the number of students. Tuition for credit recovery courses is usually paid for by parents. The cost for a student taking a short-term home instruction course is about $75 per course per week.
The website for NJVS confirms the price: $650 for a 120 hour course (equivalent to a full-year high school course), and $800 for an AP course. OK...

Let's assume an ambitious student takes seven preps over a year: four regular courses, and three APs. That comes out to $5,000 per student per year. But if this school converts to a charter, how much will it charge?
One lingering question for both schools is how they will be funded, with charters now receiving from local districts the equivalent of 90 percent of per pupil costs for every resident student who enrolls.
As the host district for the Virtual Academy Charter School, Newark Public Schools has had to set aside $10.8 million in its fiscal 2013 budget for the new virtual academy, state officials said, although that number is sure to come down when actual Newark students are counted in the program.
But whichever district pays the cost, the estimated $13,000 per student is still high for a program that K12 Inc. said costs no more than $10,000 in other states. Stewart said the main difference will be the new learning centers spread throughout New Jersey, something K12 has not done in other states.
“New Jersey does provide more funds than most, but the application has a more blended component than most,” he said.
Please. It's outrageous that we would even consider paying $10,000 for a program that's already being offered for half that amount - no matter how "blended" it really is. Is K12 Inc. really prepared to say they can provide a level of value in their education so much greater than Pearson's? Especially given their miserable track record?

Even these cyber Harold Hills must know this stinks on ice:
[Peter, K12’s vice-president for school development] Stewart said they also submitted budgets that would amount to 90 percent of the per-pupil costs from each of the student’s home districts. That has been one of the more controversial aspects of online schools, with questions as to whether they would require the same levels of funding as traditional schools.
Stewart said that had yet to be resolved with the state. “That’s part of the discussion that is going back and forth,” he said. “We are very willing to work with the state so that families get what they need, and if there are savings, we are willing to work with that as well.”
Oh, I'll bet they're willing to "discuss" this. Just like they "discussed" it in Tennessee:
The Tennessee Virtual Academy is technically part of the local school district, which receives more per pupil from the state than most other districts in Tennessee. But of the school’s 1,800 pupils, few are actually from Union County.
Out of the state money, the Union County schools will get an administrative fee of about $400,000. K12 stands to collect almost $10 million to staff and manage the school. Dozens of other Tennessee counties, however, lost state financing when some of their students elected to go to the virtual school.
The online schools have enabled entrepreneurs like Michael R. Milken, whose company Knowledge Universe started K12 a decade ago and who remains an investor, to use education as a source of government-financed business, much as military contractors have capitalized on Pentagon spending. [emphasis mine]
So K12 used one school district in the state to collect money from the others, and kicked back a small percentage for their trouble. Could MOESC wind up doing the same thing for these virtual pirates?

As Blue Jersey and Deborah Cornavaca and SOSNJ and yours truly have been pointing out, this entire thing is insane. Is this state really prepared to hand over exorbitant amounts of money to a company being sued by its own investors for a questionable on-line education scheme? Especially when we apparently can provide the same services at a fraction of the cost?

The Legislature has got to put a stop to this immediately.

I'm sorry, Dave, but 4% is all you're going to get...

(h/t long-time commenter and friend jcg for the TN connection)

1 comment:

Deb said...

Thank you for calling this scam as it really is! When I first read all this I thought I must be missing something - that there must be some legitimate reason for the shift to charter -- but I defer to your expertise and analysis as sad as it is....all about the money.....

Let's give them a run for their money and chase them out of New Jersey before K12 gets it money grubbing paws on our tax dollars and even worse, our children.