Virtual Education in K-12 Public Schools – A False and Corrupt Narrative in Virginia

by James C. Sherlock

Public employee interests with personal stakes in the outcome are lying by omission in public discussions of virtual schooling in Virginia.

Their message was published in Suzanne Munson’s column in the Richmond Times Dispatch on Jun 25th.

The VDOE has made a commendable start with online learning through its Virtual Virginia classes. But these are available in only a handful of school districts, serving less than 2% of the commonwealth’s students. This system could become a major player, with serious funding from the General Assembly. (emphasis added)

A free, accredited online curriculum, featuring the finest instructors in every subject, would level the playing field for students from diverse backgrounds. Rich and poor students alike across the commonwealth could receive the same good instruction, addressing uneven education in affluent, low-income and rural areas. Students confined at home due to illnesses or physical disabilities would be able to keep up with their studies and not fall behind.

Additionally, for those choosing remote learning individually or in small-group settings, this need not be an isolated experience. There could be opportunities for discussion, exercise, social interaction and creative expression, with adult supervision.

Ms. Munson failed to mention that exactly the public school educations she describes have been offered successfully for more than a decade free to parents by VDOE-certified private providers offering SOL-compliant instruction here in the Commonwealth.  Ms. Munson may even be ignorant of the existence of the privately run program.  

Somehow they have been doing it for those years to the great satisfaction of parents without “serious funding from the General Assembly.” They exist on the state share of school funding for each pupil that attends. The state money follows the child. No special state appropriations. Parents pay nothing. The local school districts pay nothing.

The problem the state employees have with that program is that the participating organizations are privately run. VDOE under the previous administration made a coordinated attempt to drive the MOP (Multi-division Online Provider) program out of business.

Now the state employees, using communications like Ms. Munson’s column, are lobbying for vast increases in dedicated state appropriations for their own virtual program. Promotions undoubtedly to follow for everyone currently in the program.

That constitutes public corruption.

Read about the Multi-division Online Provider (MOP) program that went unmentioned in Ms. Munson’s column. I have written about it here before.

For reader convenience I have uploaded the Virginia Department of Education Approved Multidivision Online Provider Summary for Stride, Inc, the nation’s largest online K-12 provider with accredited offerings in every state. You will note that it has been accredited in Virginia since 2011.

VDOE under the Northam administration did not, for political reasons, ask Stride and the others on the long list of Virginia-accredited private providers to take up the slack due to school shutdowns during COVID. even though they were already accredited and have proven track records in Virginia and are already under VDOE supervision.

So. the administration started up its own brand new, unproven in-house virtual school and named it “Virtual Virginia.” Cute. The very successful Stride, Inc. offering is called “Virginia Virtual Academy.”

The staff of that new program is comprised ofstate employees. Now they want “serious funding from the General Assembly” to expand it. That is worse than nonsense. It is public corruption.

The government employees know that they cannot survive a rational discussion of the costs and merits of depending upon long-established, accredited private virtual school systems vs. spending untold millions of dollars to create a new, publicly-run competitor.

So, they encourage stories like that by Ms. Munson that simply fail to mention the MOP program.

I hope the Youngkin administration does not participate in this scandalous misuse of government funds and considers shutting “Virtual Virginia” down.

Update: Suzanne Munson has asked to have the following response appended to this article. — JAB

I am not a state employee, nor was I writing on behalf of state employees. I wrote as an observer. For a number of years, I have seen the positive potential of easy-to-access, free online learning, both in the home setting and in public schools with teacher shortages, especially in critical areas like math and the sciences, and in rural and low-income areas. This was all that I was trying to say. No nefarious conspiracy theories here.