Virtual schools fear closing if Kansas cuts funding

Published On: Mar 31 2014 04:16:47 PM CDT   Updated On: Mar 31 2014 06:22:52 PM CDT

One of the plans to raise between $119 and $129 million to fulfill the Kansas Supreme Court's school funding requirements is to cut funding to virtual schools by 50%.

"If we were to reduce funding in half, we wouldn't be around. We wouldn't be educating kids," said Gary Lewis, Educational Outreach Director at Maize Virtual Preparatory School. He and other virtual school leaders went to Topeka Monday to speak out against the proposed cuts because they're the cuts would end a 16 year tradition here in Kansas.

Virtual schools say if they closed every one of their students that moved over to a traditional brick and mortar school would end up costing the state more money.

There are 93 virtual or online schools in Kansas. That's a school where you study at home. The district sends the books to you and you take tests online. Teachers are available if you have questions electronically.

"I think it's kind of keeping up with the times," said Amy Asher who has four kids that attend the Maize Virtual Preparatory School. "I still have the input that I want to have as their mother, teaching them at home. But I also have the expertise of people who are in the field."

She likes the compromise between home schooling and getting the benefit from her tax dollars that pay for public schools. She, like many parents, is worried about proposed cuts to their school's funding.

"I don't see how any virtual school in our state can operate," said Lewis.

"They don't really understand how virtual schools work," said Doug Powers, superintendent of the Maize Public Schools.

He says they're required to meet the same standards as traditional schools and the students take the same state assessment exams. Last year 98% of students at Maize Virtual Preparatory School were rated proficient or better in reading, 95% in math and 88% in reading.

"What's important is that our legislators understand that these are Kansas kids receiving a Kansas education. We are schools just like any other bricks and mortar school," said Lewis. "At $4030, which is what we're currently funded per full-time pupil, that allows us to provide the necessary resources to educate our children. So the textbooks, the microscopes, the lab equipment... the things that we send into the homes so that they can conduct our labs and complete our work. That's required so that they can meet the standards in Kansas."

"Not only is it a great avenue, a good option for some families and their children, we think it's a very cost effective way of educating kids," said Powers.

That $4030 per student virtual schools get is compared to the $3838 brick and mortar schools get. But that's all virtual schools get.

"There are no additional weightings," said Powers. "There's nothing extra with that."

Once all the additional funds for transportation, special education, building maintenance, etc., are added in the state pays brick and mortar schools per student "just around $10,000," said Powers. "When you look at the cost to us as a district for virtual students, it is quite a savings."

A savings that would disappear if even half of the 6,000 plus students attending Kansas virtual schools returned to brick and mortars.

"There are a lot of things at stake," said Powers. "And it's the education of our kids in Kansas that's being discussed."

Virtual schools are encouraging their parents to contact state lawmakers and ask them not to cut funding.

School leaders and parents also testified against the plan Monday before the House Appropriations Committee. Their testimony will continue Tuesday morning at 9 a.m.