Government Attacks on Parental Choice in Virtual K-12 Public Education in Virginia: A Prologue

Legacy Elementary School, Ashburn, Va.

by James C. Sherlock

Very few like the concept of full-time online education for children. 

They do not consider it an attractive option to teachers in front of kids in brick-and-mortar school classrooms.  

Neither do I. 

They believe, and science backs, that there is considerably more value to in-person school than classroom instruction.    

But concepts are one thing; reality another.  

A full-time virtual K-12 option (FTVK12) has been available in America for two decades. Some parents, dealing with the realities of situations in which they found their own children, have chosen that option from the beginning.  

They make that choice for the same reason that parents that can both afford and have access send their kids to private schools. They find the local public school a poor setting for their kids’ educations compared to another available option.

Maybe the local public school has a history of under-performance and the parents assess that the under-performance is linked to more than just classroom instruction. Maybe their child has 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/her away from there for a year or two.  

Maybe a lot of reasons. Parents’ reasons.

Total costs for virtual public schools are less than half of what governments — state, local and federal — together spend for education in brick-and-mortar public schools. In some states, the District of Columbia and some Virginia localities, costs are much less than half. 

Most states, including Virginia, pay the bill for parents who choose a privately- run virtual public school option that their Departments of Education have licensed.  

You can disagree with that as a matter of public policy, but it is worth noting that Democrats in Virginia, with four years of total control in Richmond, made no overt attempt to change the laws that offer it. They certainly tried and to some degree succeeded in suppressing the privately-run virtual public-school option, but they did not change the law.

In the states in which the virtual school invoices must be paid by parents, only those who can afford that option can access it.

Demand has been higher than you likely think.  

FTVK12 public school is being provided to about 17,000 children in Virginia this school year. There are more than 1.2 million public school children in the Commonwealth. But 17,000 is a lot of kids, even at less than 1.5% of the public school population.

As a school division, FTVK12 public schools would be the 20th largest of 132 divisions in Virginia.

An even higher number of students, as many as 40,000, are registered as home schoolers in Virginia. Those parents by law are not eligible for state funding. Many, for religious reasons, don’t want a state curriculum for their kids.

In Virginia, again as in most states, the options for parents other than home schoolers include private providers offering state curricula and state-certified teachers paid with public school funds.  

The reason is simple.  

Commercial providers offer online schools tailored for each state and the District of Columbia. Many compete nationally. 

They succeed when their students succeed. They are good at what they do or they lose in the marketplace. They constantly invest their own funds in improvements, or they lose. They listen to and satisfy parents or they lose. Competition hones their quality.

The commercial providers offer state-certified teachers providing state-certified courses. They take all comers — IEPs, 504’s, English language learners — everyone; and they provide them every non-instructional service they get in brick-and-mortar schools.

They are diverse. By far the largest commercial FTVK12 public school provider in Virginia has a 22% Black student body, exactly the same as the state public school system as a whole.

They succeed, measurably.

There is a considerable surplus of trained and certified teachers willing to teach in these schools. They teach from home. Many are certified in multiple states. Capacity in any state can be expanded or contracted by private firms to meet demand without disruption of the programs.  

That excess of teachers seeking to teach from home in online schools is fed by teachers leaving brick-and-mortar schools.

The crisis in teacher supply in brick-and-mortar schools. Demand, unfortunately, is certain to rise, driven by a dwindling supply of brick-and-mortar school teachers.   

Good teachers leaving. We have watched in horror on television as the reputation of the teaching profession has been trashed by the actions of teachers unions and union-pressured school boards during COVID. 

Attacks on teachers with traditional values have been orchestrated by the graduate schools of education and their graduates who run VDOE, the state Board of Education, and our public school systems. Et tu, Brute?

Everyone wants good teachers for the kids, but fewer and fewer people actually want to do that job. 

Crippling teacher shortages already plague public schools in Virginia before the teachers they have call in sick. A recent national poll shows that 48% of existing classroom teachers are considering a career change. 

We wish they would not leave but we understand why they do.

Leaking pipeline. Compounding that, the pool of new teachers is shrinking. So, there is not enough help on the way.

From “A Pipeline Running Dry: Trends in Teacher Preparation Programs”

While the student population has grown in 32 states, teacher preparation programs haven’t kept up. From 2010 to 2016, only six states have seen an increase in the number of new educators coming out of teacher preparation programs. Meanwhile, the rest of the U.S. has seen new teacher pipelines fall by over 30 percent nationally, with nearly 66,000 fewer new teachers graduating in 2016 than 2010.

From the U.S. Department of Education, Title II Reports: National Teacher Preparation Data, February 2021:

384 fewer new teachers graduated from teacher preparation programs in Virginia in 2018 compared to 2010. That’s a -10.69% change over the years. The percent change (in enrollment in teacher prep programs in 2018) was -45.70%. For reference, the K-12 population decreased by 3.03% over that same timeframe. (parentheses mine)

The near-term trend is even worse. 

In 2015, the total completions of both traditional  (finished an IHE– Institutions of Higher Learning–course of instruction) and non-traditional (non-IHE-based alternative program) Virginia teacher programs was 4,016 (3,602 of these in traditional programs). Just three years later, in 2018, those numbers had plummeted to 3,208 and 2,900, respectively.  

For reference, the K-12 student population decreased by 3.031% in Virginia during the same timeframe. Clearly, the lines of supply and demand are diverging decisively.

Not only are online public schools here to stay, the need for them will increase whether we want it to do so or not.

The empire strikes back.  The government of Virginia under Ralph Northam, working with the budget/finance committees (but not the education committees) in the General Assembly, spent four years attacking the only FTVK12 public school option that existed when Northam took office. You know, the successful, privately-run one.  

This year, the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE), massively expanded its own FTVK12 public school population — by 1,400%. In one year.  This year.

What could go wrong? 

We won’t know. VDOE’s FTVK12 school has no regulator. And no rules, because it is authorized in an appropriations act, not education committee legislation.  If you look in the Code of Virginia, you will not find authorization for a full-time school.  The only mention of the VDOE school Virtual Virginia that came up when I searched the Administrative Code was in. 8VAC20-131-60. Transfer students.

Virginia public schools shall accept standard and verified units of credit from other Virginia public schools, Virginia’s virtual learning program, Virtual Virginia, and state-operated programs.

That’s it.

Did I mention that VDOE regulates its private or division-run competitors? And that VDOE’s state school is the only FTVK12 option offered to parents by the school divisions that do not run their own program? To my knowledge, Chesterfield is the only division that does so, or at least did at one time.

Registrations in the new state school were driven in no small part by a simultaneous move by the City of Richmond Public Schools (RPS). 

I note that RPS headquarters is an eight-minute walk from VDOE headquarters. 

RPS last spring cancelled a long-standing contract with the commercial provider, by far the largest, under which RPS had hosted that providers’ students from all over the state. The provider scrambled to get contracts to replace the VDOE-defined “capacity” it lost in Richmond (long story), but could not on short notice replace it all.  

The parents of 4,000 Virginia students were denied that option as the provider found itself over-subscribed under VDOE regulations, had to turn some away and close registrations early.


Looking ahead. I am going to tell you that story. You will find that Virginia’s “system” for FTVK12 public schools gives Rube Goldberg a bad name.  

You will also find that government organizations, as briefly introduced above, have been at war with Virginia’s laws as well as with the successful privately run options. 

They are winning.

The underlying facts are astonishingly complex because Virginia’s laws, written more than a decade ago, were poorly thought through then and are inadequate in today’s environment.  

It will take an entire series of reports to explain:

  • the enormous gaps between what is currently in Virginia’s laws, what the need is going forward, and what Virginia must do to address it;
  • what other states with rational systems are doing. No other state or the District of Columbia does this exactly like Virginia.  Why on earth would they?; and
  • what the recommendations are for rewrites of current Virginia laws to rationalize our own “system.”

For my friends on the left, you will find that you, too, will want the laws rewritten to support your position. I guarantee it.  So, hold your fire until you understand the current mess. It is indefensible.

This is prologue. 

Virginia is in no position under the current “system” of virtual K-12 public education to meet demand deliberately, rationally or well.

It certainly is not poised to preserve the parent choice that is legal but has become increasingly inaccessible over the past four years under assaults by the Northam administration, the budget and finance committees of the General Assembly, and RPS.

Updated Jan 8 at 3:39 PM and 4:14 PM

Share this article


(comments below)


(comments below)


18 responses to “Government Attacks on Parental Choice in Virtual K-12 Public Education in Virginia: A Prologue”

  1. Donald Smith Avatar
    Donald Smith

    Kids need to be with other kids. They need to develop social skills. They need to learn how to be good friends, and deal with bad people. You can’t teach that remotely.

    My son was miserable with remote learning. He is much happier now that he’s back among his peers.

    1. James C. Sherlock Avatar
      James C. Sherlock

      Who provided his online instruction?

    2. James C. Sherlock Avatar
      James C. Sherlock

      I agree with you. That is not at issue. But neither you nor I can control the accelerating teacher shortage in brick and mortar schools. The numbers just don’t work now and the future, as I explained, is much worse.

  2. Fred Costello Avatar
    Fred Costello

    The many homeschooled children that I know have little person-to-person social action with schoolmates during school time, but more than compensate with the social action they have with their schoolmates, playmates, and teammates outside of school time.

  3. walter smith Avatar
    walter smith

    That is a great article. Thank you. My daughter is a 5 year teacher of high school math. 3 in a public school. 2 now in a private. She loves the private because it has standards and enforces them. If she punishes a student for not doing the homework, the admin backs her up. A few other reasons also, but the “union” philosophy does detract from what should be the core mission – educating the children.
    (And when she graduated she espoused the VEA line…now, not so much…)

  4. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
    James Wyatt Whitehead

    Charleston SC is having a debate that there is too much school choice. The claim is that school choice in the form of vouchers, charter schools, magnet schools, and FTVK12 are siphoning off the best students leaving the public schools behind. I am not surprised that FTVK12 is virtually unregulated. The same is nearly true for private schools and homeschools in Virginia. I know that Liberty University On Line Academy is popular in Fauquier for many children who did not return to public schools in the past 2 years. Surely Virginia can do something for FTVK12. As for the teacher shortage, Virginia is going to have to do something to make access to licensure and endorsements a bit easier.

    1. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
      Dick Hall-Sizemore

      Your last sentence hits on a key factor that goes undiscussed too often. My wife was an education major in college. (That was before there was a “school” of education at W&M.) We both thought most of her education classes were a waste, except for educational psychology, childrens’ literature, and student teaching. The former two could have easily been included in other departments.

      The Virginia licensure requirements are much too restrictive. Someone with a good knowledge and love of U.S. History, for example, cannot get a teaching certificate unless he or she has loaded up on a bunch of teaching methods courses that have little relationship to the real world of teaching.

      As a retired teacher, I would welcome your perspective. Maybe I am way off base. (It wouldn’t be the first time.)

      1. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
        James Wyatt Whitehead

        Here are some of the courses I had to take back in 1993 to get that license from VPI.
        1. Schooling in American Society.
        2. Advanced Ed Psych
        3. Competence and Continuity in Reading
        4. Seminar in TEaching Secondary Ed
        5. Problems in Education
        6. Sociology of Death
        7. Foundations of Education Research and Evaluation
        8. Virginia’s Historic Heritage
        9. INdependent study on American and Childrens literature.

        And finally the one that actually mattered. Internship in Education or student teaching.
        7 of those classes were taught by good professors and did prove of some value.

        The student teaching was the key. I worked for a tough battle ax teacher at Northside Jr. High. Painful but so valuable. Used Mrs. Lang’s methodology everyday for 27 years.

        I can only imagine what sort of coursework is required now.

        I picked up the teaching license and a master degree for about 8 grand in 3 semesters to save a few sheckles.

    2. James C. Sherlock Avatar
      James C. Sherlock

      FTVK12 is regulated in Virginia, but only the MOP versions. MOP providers are regulated and licensed by VDOE.

      The state FTVK12 version, Virtual Virginia, is run by VDOE. It is unregulated.

      It is great being king. My rules for thee, but not for me.

      Wait until you read about the funding.

      1. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
        James Wyatt Whitehead

        Virtual Virginia is advised by the Virtual Learning Advising Committee. Looks like all internal VDOE and 8 school division representatives from the 8 regions. January 2022, a report will be made available for comment and review. VLAC did submit a Notice of Intended Regulatory Action last summer.

        1. James C. Sherlock Avatar
          James C. Sherlock

          This is the regulatory shoe that is poised to drop. The regulations discussed at the meeting will basically outlaw the full-time MOP business model.

          You will also notice that Stride/K12, whose Virginia Virtual Academy is the primary full-time FTVK12 competitor to VDOE’s Virtual Virginia and long had more students than Virtual Virginia, was not invited to the regulatory conference. I intend to bring it up it in the next Chapter and explain it fully in another.

          1. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
            James Wyatt Whitehead

            I guess Stride/K12 landed on this square. The public is so ill informed about this important piece of the puzzle. Will legislators and regulators just go along or will there be some form of scrutiny for the public good?

          2. James C. Sherlock Avatar
            James C. Sherlock

            My work here, which is not nearly complete, is meant to stop the skullduggery in its tracks.

            My next column will describe what VDOE had in store in the way of new regulations. They would have had the effect of kicking the MOPs out of the publicly-funded market here by outlawing their business models that parents find attractive.

            The “advisory panel” assembled by the recently departed Superintendent clearly did not anticipate a Republican Governor, Superintendent and Attorney General coming when it went through this regulatory exercise in September of 2021.

    3. James C. Sherlock Avatar
      James C. Sherlock

      FTVK12 is regulated in Virginia, but only the MOP versions. MOP providers are regulated and licensed by VDOE.

      The state FTVK12 version, Virtual Virginia, is run by VDOE. It is unregulated.

      It is great being king. My rules for thee, but not for me.

      Wait until you read about the funding.

  5. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
    James Wyatt Whitehead

    VVA has restrictive enrollment rules. One must submit GPA scores, reading test scores, and so on. High school rules require extra hoops. No hoops required to go to the crumbling brick and mortar schools. VVA did expand K-8 enrollment and there are still seats. I noticed Chesapeake Public Schools has its own VVA approved virtual academy just for them.

    1. James C. Sherlock Avatar
      James C. Sherlock

      So does, or did, Chesterfield. Chesterfield’s program was even licensed as a MOP.

  6. VaNavVet Avatar

    Chesapeake Public Schools does have its own FTVK. Parents can choose between the district or the state platform.

  7. […] ← Government Attacks on Parental Choice in Virtual K-12 Public Education in Virginia: A Prologu… […]

Leave a Reply