A group in Georgia calling themselves Georgia Families for Public Virtual Education is alleging that Georgia is not upholding its own laws in allocating funding for virtual schools.

Georgia Families for Public Virtual Education raises strong concerns that two approved online high schools were forced to withdrawal due to low and unfair funding from the state. This week both Kaplan Academy of Georgia and Provost Academy Georgia will no longer provide virtual high school curriculum to students.

In 2008, Georgia passed landmark legislation HB881, requiring the Georgia Charter School Commission to provide fair and equitable funding for online public charter schools. The typical student in Georgia receives over $8,000, yet virtual charter schools only receive around $3,500 –among the lowest of any state.

Thousands of public school children are being denied funding despite a law mandating equal treatment.  According to the International Association for K12 Online Learning (iNACOL), the national average of funding provided to online public schools is$6,500 per pupil.  Still significantly less than the average child receives in brick and mortar schools.

“It is concerning that two new online schools set to provide high-level education to Georgia students are forced to close because the state refuses to uphold a law providing equal funding for virtual schools,” said Rene Lord, Chairman of the Georgia Families for Public Virtual Education.   “Experts and national studies all say funding for virtual schools should be at or near the national average.  The Commission has failed the children by its disregard for their education and future.”

To add to this story, I contacted the Georgia Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget and asked where the figures that showed up in this newspaper report in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution came from. In the story, the the Georgia Charter Schools Commission said that virtual schools would be allocated to in the following way:

The commission set state funding at about $3,500 per pupil, minus a 3 percent administrative fee. That is more than the $2,900 recommended by state staff, but far less than the $6,500 recommended by the International Association for K-12 Online Learning, which pushes for equal funding for all charters.

Sources had told me that the “state staff” in this case, was the Governor’s Office for Planning and Budget. I talked to Amy Jacobs, Director of the Education division there. I was told that there was never any formal study done to come to those numbers. The figures, according to her, were developed internally by “tweaking” a formula that the staff uses to determine funding. I asked if a study had been done. “We did not do a study on charter school funding. All we have done is an internal analysis. We just have internal working papers,” said Jacobs. “We tweaked [a formula they use for deriving funding] it, but it’s nothing formal. It was just an internal conversation and analysis between our staff. It’s very misleading to call it a study.”

It remains to be decided whether or not an informal office conversation can be used to make state policy, or to be used as recommendations for charting out funding. There is a state law that says funding should match. In this case it does not. Were the figures for the other schools also created using informal methods? And what are the informal methods? If anyone can tell me the answer to this, please let me know. And if anyone can illuminate for me what are the requirements for coming to conclusions about budget allocations and correlations, that would be helpful, too.

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