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.