February 16, 2016
The Virginia Society for Technology in Education represents over five thousand members including public school teachers, administrators, and higher education faculty. VSTE’s mission is to promote excellence in education through professional development endeavors supporting the integration of existing and emerging technologies.
The Board of Directors for the Virginia Society for Technology in Education (VSTE) has reviewed House Bill 8, which calls for the creation of the Virginia Virtual School (VVS). We have serious questions and concerns about provisions in the bill and their potential impact on public education and public school divisions in the Commonwealth.
Those questions and concerns are as follows:
Funding is the major concern. Virginia’s funding per student, when adjusted for inflation, dropped on average by 13% annually since 2009, with some divisions experiencing drops as high as 17%.  While the bill includes limits on the number of students who could participate in the online school, the legislation will divert both state and federal money for our public school systems to the Virginia Virtual School (VVS), which will contract with non-profit or private entities. Students who opt to participate in VVS would no longer count toward the average daily membership (ADM) count of their local school division, meaning that divisions would lose anywhere from 25% to 75% of their per-pupil funding for each of those students. Smaller rural school divisions who rely more heavily on state and federal funding would be more adversely affected. School divisions rely on those funds to provide pooled services to their students and diverting the funds could have significant impacts on services provided to all students in a school division. Additionally, all the funds would go to the provider even though they would not be providing access to non-instructional services such as nutritional and extracurricular activities.
We are especially concerned that these dollars would go to a private entity. An analysis of the current list of approved providers as well as of the existing marketplace suggests strongly that only one private company - K-12, Inc. - will be able to provide full-time virtual schooling for grades K-12 as most providers on the approved list only provide courses for grades 9-12.
We are very concerned about the quality of instruction provided by K-12, Inc. The company has a poor track record of providing high quality online education, with states across the nation dropping them as providers. The National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado reported in July 2012 that K-12, Inc. students are falling further behind in reading and math scores than students in brick-and-mortar schools.  They also pointed out that the student population is transient and graduation rates are low. Finally, K-12, Inc. spends millions each year on advertising and lobbying. Is this really how we want public education funds to be spent?
Finally, we believe we do not need to replace the current systems, processes and advisory board in place for implementing virtual learning. We have a highly qualified Board of Education already in place that could certainly, with the Superintendent of Public Instruction, oversee the school. Currently, access to virtual learning is left at the discretion of local school divisions who are able to make decisions based on their local population and needs. The Virginia Department of Education is piloting an online high school and, in conjunction with many local school divisions, working to provide online opportunities. Why do we need additional legislation when work is already being done across the state? Creating a statewide school takes that local control away from local school boards.
We believe these questions and concerns need to be addressed before this legislation moves forward and the new board is established. We further believe that Virginia has a long history of local control and the establishment of virtual programs should be left at the discretion of our local school boards.
 School spending in Virginia hasn’t recovered since recession, Peter Dujardin, October 3, 2015, Daily Press, http://www.dailypress.com/news/education/dp-nws-jlarc-education-report-20151003-story.html
 Report Shows Students Attending K12 Inc. Cyber Schools Fall Behind, William J. Mathis and Gary Miron, July 18, 2012, National Education Policy Center, http://nepc.colorado.edu/newsletter/2012/07/understanding-improving-virtual%20
Karen Work Richardson, Executive Director