OPINION

Column: Budget cuts target students, not schools

Bryan Klochack

The statewide education budget proposed earlier this year by Gov. Rick Snyder unfairly targets funding for Michigan’s growing offering of cyber schools. Rather than level the playing field, these cuts tell Michigan’s learners that their choice in schools — virtual or otherwise — will directly determine their level of support from the state.

Across the country, enrollment in online learning has increased 80 percent the past five years, with over 2.7 million students choosing the model. In Michigan, there are 13 charter cyber schools serving thousands of families across the state — a clear indication that online learning is preferred by many of today’s students.

The Mackinac Center’s recent Public High School Context and Performance Report Card shows that those virtual schools serving high school students are on par with their peers. The same report found that Michigan Connections Academy performed better than 90 percent of public high schools throughout the state, when accounting for student poverty rates. So why cut the funding?

The argument goes like this: brick-and-mortar schools face facilities’ costs that virtual schools don’t, and therefore, virtual schools can operate at a lower cost per pupil. The major flaw in this line of thinking, as highlighted by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, is that brick-and-mortar school districts pay for their facilities through local property tax revenues. Virtual schools are at a disadvantage because they don’t have access to the same taxes and are, therefore, already constricted by the per pupil funds they receive from the state.

Even with significantly less funding, virtual schools have a strong track record in responsible spending – 68 percent of cyber school operational spending went toward teachers and other instructional costs, compared to just 58 percent for other schools.

When virtual schools were introduced, there was a lot of skepticism because many did not know whether the model would be effective. As positive outcomes are achieved year after year, the desire for the model continues to grow.

Families enroll in virtual schooling for a variety of reasons — because they are interested in participating in school at home, but would still like a rigorous curriculum that meets state standards, or they desire the opportunity to be more engaged in their child’s education by serving as learning coaches. For other families, virtual schools provide flexibility, essential for students pursuing sports, the entertainment industry, musical talents, or those who need frequent medical care that often regulates their schedules.

No matter the reason, thousands of families across Michigan have found comfort and refuge in an academic choice that fits their needs best: virtual education. Michigan should offer all students an equal opportunity to succeed, rather than punish students for their choice in schools.

Bryan Klochack is the principal of Michigan Connections Academy.