Government Attacks K-12 Public Education in Virginia – Chapter 3: The Elusive Costs of the Government Option

by James C. Sherlock

The publicly funded competitors to VDOE-run Virtual Virginia provide VDOE-approved curricula and courses delivered by VDOE-certified teachers employed by highly experienced and nationally prominent companies regulated by VDOE.

You get the point: VDOE oversees its competitors. And it knows what they are paid by the government.

My very rough estimates indicate that a full-time, VDOE-run Virtual Virginia education is more expensive than a similar education provided by those private sector competitors.

But no one in the public or in government could either prove or disprove that assessment. I would call that a problem.

It would take a forensic accountant to determine the true cost of a full-time Virtual Virginia education. We should have those figures. We do not.

Neither does the government.

The hard part. The costs of Virtual Virginia are funded from at least seven sources, only the first five of which are budgeted under Department of Education Central Office Operations. The subcategories are Distance Learning and Electronic Classroom.

Distance learning and electronic classroom

  1. General fund
  2. Special
  3. Trust and Agency.  This budget line is an estimate of expected tuition payments from school districts. The actual tuition charges are paid by the school divisions from their Direct Aid to Schools funds. The Central Office budget line lets VDOE spend the tuition money as it is received.
  4. Federal

Here is the executive budget submission for Virtual Virginia.

Executive Budget submission enrolled as SB 300 – 2022 Session – Distance Learning and Electronic Classroom (18602) – Virtual Virginia

FY 23 FY 24
Total $33,503,634 $40,025,811
Fund Sources


$6,021,594 $6,021,594


$105,000 $105,000

Trust and Agency

$27,982,225 $34,504,402

Federal Trust

$55,276 $55,276

In the notes you would find that the Trust and Agency lines represent increases of $26,088,705 in FY 23 and $32,610,882 in FY 24 respectively from those previously considered.

Fall 2019 full-time Virtual Virginia enrollment — before the pandemic — was approximately 235 students.

Fall 2020 full-time enrollment rose to 921 as the program was expanded in response to the pandemic. The total tuition received was less than a million dollars in FY 21.

In FY 22, Virtual Virginia expects to receive about $26 million in tuition payments for the 2021-22 school year for 12,608 full time students.

Remember that the “Trust and Agency” line in Virtual Virginia’s budget authorizes Virtual Virginia to spend tuition money expected to be paid by school divisions from their state shares of Direct Aid to Schools.

The fifth traceable Virtual Virginia funding line supports technology for the learning management system that is required for its operations. That bill is separately budgeted with General Fund dollars at $5,138,000 annually.

The sixth traceable cost is the money paid to Carroll County every year to handle the HR and accounting for the employees of Virtual Virginia. Charlotte County Public Schools receives $386,000 annually along with a 2% administrative fee for processing payroll and benefits.

We are not done.

The seventh source of funds is unaccounted for.

It consists of the considerable non-instructional costs that Virtual Virginia requires the local brick-and-mortar public schools to absorb, which are not identified anywhere. Those costs are paid by the districts using Direct Aid to Public Education funds, but are nowhere broken out, much less shown as a cost of Virtual Virginia.

That same Direct Aid to Public Education money pot is used by the school districts to pay Virtual Virginia tuitions.

Instructional and non-instructional costs are reported by VDOE each year for the state and for each school division. Together they account for the total cost of a full time education — roughly 1/3 non-instructional costs and 2/3 instructional costs with only slight variations statewide.

In the case of Virtual Virginia, non-instructional costs are unreported and virtually untraceable.

That is because Virtual Virginia offloads considerable costs, like counseling and mentoring, testing and special costs associated with IEP, 504 and ELL students that are considered costs of direct instruction by the state school costs accounting standards.

So, the true costs of Virtual Virginia are unknown. It has both fixed costs that are budgeted and levies costs per student that are both known and unknown.

Perhaps we should consider finding out what the total costs are and divide them by the number of students to figure out what Virtual Virginia is really costing. Just a thought.

The easy part. Virtual Virginia’s competitors are the privately-run options regulated by VDOE that Virginia parents have preferred over the VDOE school.  They submit invoices to the districts with whom they have contracts. Those invoices are paid from the district’s state share of Direct Aid to Schools. No local or federal share is involved. That is the total cost.

Those Virtual Virginia competitors provide directly to their students all of the services that VDOE’s Virtual Virginia offloads onto the brick-and-mortar public schools.

Got all of that? Admit it, you don’t. You don’t have any idea of the costs of Virtual Virginia, and that is before you even begin to assess its relative value.

Perhaps the true costs of that school are undefinable for a reason. Or perhaps it just reflects lack of interest.

I pick the latter.