Government Attacks on Parental Choice in Virtual K-12 Education in Virginia. Chapter 4: Demand and Supply

by James C. Sherlock

The demonstrated demand this school year for publicly-funded full-time virtual K-12 (FTVK12) education in Virginia has been about 17,000 kids. 

That figure does not include the home-schooled kids ineligible for public funding support, discussed below.  

While that is a big number, it represents less than 1.5% of the 1,251,970 kids  enrolled in Virginia public schools this fall, including virtual public schools. So less than 1.5% of Virginia public school children are being educated virtually full- time at public expense.  Nationally, the maximum seen in any state in that category before this year was 2%.

This chapter will discuss issues of demand and supply in Virginia.

Why do parents choose the privately-run option? 

Why would parents choose a private FTVK12 education for their kids rather than send them to a brick-and-mortar school for direct instruction? They make that choice for the same three basic reasons that parents send their kids to private schools:

  • It is an option that gives parents control, rather than the schools;
  • The kids never have to set foot in the local public school; and
  • The provider has far more experience in FTK12 virtual education (these providers have operated nationwide, and for a decade longer than the VDOE-run option).

Maybe the local public school has a history of under-performance, and the parents assess that under-performance is linked to more than just classroom instruction.  Maybe their child had special needs that in the parents’ judgement could be better accommodated at home. Maybe their kid was hanging with the wrong crowd at school and they wanted to get him or her away from there for a year of two.  

Maybe a lot of reasons. 

The VDOE-run FTVK12 option, Virtual Virginia, does not attempt to satisfy those parents. It will only take kids registered with their local public schools and recommended by those schools. It deals with those schools only, not with parents. 

Another issue is that the VDOE school, dependent as it is on the brick-and mortar school services, can be impacted by health and weather interruptions as much as the schools themselves. With private FTK12 providers, those same school services are fully virtual from day one, and not subject to those interruptions.

Remember, these are parents who do not have the resources to send their kids to private schools, either virtual or brick-and-mortar. They are also diverse. The nearly-7,000 student population of the privately run FTK12 option last year was 22% Black, exactly the same proportion as the public schools as a whole.  There are no public figures regarding the diversity of the VDOE school.

These parents want the same state-approved course materials delivered by state-certified teachers that kids get in brick-and-mortar schools, often in spite of frequent closures and other disruptions. 

They want their kids to get that instruction and associated services uninterrupted and at home.

Home schooling is not covered. Over the past decade, homeschooling in Virginia increased 50%. More than 40,000 kids are reportedly now being homeschooled in the Commonwealth. Home schoolers may not currently access either publicly funded option.   

There are very successful private options for home schoolers. But the Commonwealth will not currently pay the bills for either individual courses or full-time instruction.

To accept publicly-funded full time education virtually at home, parents of home schoolers would have to agree to a complete state curriculum, taught by state-certified teachers. Those who home school for religious reasons would not accept that.

The rule that the state will not pay for individual courses or full-time instruction for registered home schoolers is a choice Virginia has made.

Rules and oversight. As for rules and oversight, there are state guidelines enforced by VDOE for the district and privately run options. There are none for the VDOE school. So, as discussed in earlier chapters, VDOE is the regulator for its competitors, while its own school has no regulator.  

Artificial suppression of supply of the privately-run option. In the 2021-22 school year, the parents of more than 4,000 kids were driven away from the school of their choice by the combined, simultaneous actions of

  • the Governor and his appointees;
  • the budget/finance committees of the General Assembly; and
  • Richmond Public Schools (RPS).  

In the view of the above government players, the parents did not deserve a private choice when a public one is available. It is generally considered a mortal sin in some circles to give public money to a privately-run public school, even when that school is regulated by VDOE. They are certainly welcome to their opinions.

But when Democrats were in full control in Richmond, they did not have the votes to repeal the Virginia laws that authorize public funding for the privately- run options. The machinations described in Chapter 2 of this series were a work- around to constrain supply of the private option.

The parents of those 4,000 kids had a new choice of sorts.  

They could accept the state-run option or move.  

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3 responses to “Government Attacks on Parental Choice in Virtual K-12 Education in Virginia. Chapter 4: Demand and Supply”

  1. Eric the half a troll Avatar
    Eric the half a troll

    “As for rules and oversight, there are state guidelines enforced by VDOE for the district and privately-run options.”

    To ensure they provide the same access to services that all public schools (brick and mortar or not) are required by law to provide… as required by law…

  2. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
    Dick Hall-Sizemore

    You have opened up an area that probably most readers of this blog were unaware of. I think it is best if I continue my questions on this newest thread.

    As I understand it, Virtual Virginia is available to every school district. DOE establishes a fee schedule for each district and the cost for the district is based on the number of the district’s students enrolled and the district’s composite index.

    A district may also contract with a private provider, MOP, to provide virtual education. Now this is where I am confused. Who pays the MOP? I assume it is the district and the cost is determined by the contract and the district pays with whatever funds it has available, whether from local taxes or state financial assistance.

    You refer to slots. Does DOE control the number of students, either by district or statewide, who can be enrolled in full time virtual school offered by MOPs?

    For the MOPs or Virtual Virginia, are there limits as to how many students can be enrolled in a virtual course?

    Could a MOP course have students from a Virginia school district and a district from another state at the same time?

    You said that there are no rules or guidelines for the DOE school. However, by law, all teachers of virtual course must be certified. Furthermore, it seems logical that Virtual Virginia follows the same curriculum that brick and mortar schools do.

    Can students that are enrolled full-time in Virtual Virginia participate in extracurricular activities at the school, such as athletics, school plays, etc.? How about those enrolled full time in a MOP virtual program?

    Do students enrolled in Virtual Virginia have access to the counselors in the schools?

    What non-instructional services do MOPs have to provide?

    Enough questions for this post.

  3. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
    James Wyatt Whitehead

    The projections for enrollment show dramatic expansion in the next two years. This issue is going to impact a significant number of school aged children. The world of virtual education is complex and more in the Virginia Way. Virtual education reform is going to require a sharp group of minds to hammer out a better system.

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