Separate funding formula for virtual charter schools

The primary purpose of public education in the State of Oklahoma is to educate our youth. Everything else, including extracurricular activities, is secondary, even though all extracurricular activities are still very important for our youth and communities. 

Public schools, as designed in our state’s constitution, crafted a system with buildings and classrooms that had to be constructed and paid for by the public in each of our communities in providing a safe and free education for all Oklahoma children. 

To properly educate our children it takes several components working together to ensure a quality education is provided to each student. Today, in public education we are still falling too short in our public schools meeting these educational goals, and much of the reason has to do with proper funding and needed reforms. 

In public education, a qualified and properly certified teacher is at the core for success in instruction, followed by a classroom with a limited number of students not exceeding 18 (depending on the grade level) if possible. That allows classroom instructors to keep students on task and the capability of fully evaluating each child daily.

In addition to teachers, classrooms must be fully equipped and funded with proper instructional materials, workbooks, supplies, equipment and the proper technology equipment needed to complete the full content of instruction.

All of these elements combined should relate to students meeting or exceeding all state testing requirements for specific grade levels and being better prepared for the “Real World” and becoming productive citizens.

But today, even with additional state revenues available for funding education, we’re still seeing too many Oklahoma public schools falling short in receiving and meeting the funding needs to properly educate our children and in meeting academic scoring levels on state testing.

One of the newer forms of education in the state that’s been effective for many students and families, but at the same time becoming a point of controversy due to increased funding levels, are the Virtual Charter Schools (VCS) and how they are designed and receive their funding.

I support our existing VCS and their students, but I do not support this type of education receiving equal or almost equal funding, per student, in comparison to our brick-and-mortar public school students.

In comparison of VCS teacher salaries to traditional public education salaries, VCS teachers can start out with a salary of $60,000 and up, even exceeding $118,000. While many tenured educators in brick-and-mortar public schools fall well short of that. At the same time, more taxpayer dollars continue going to VCS, creating an endless supply of funding for their needs. If we are not careful, VCS funding can become detrimental to public education in our state!       

Since the classes are mostly online at our VSC, a VCS teacher can have the responsibility of teaching hundreds of students, while they may not see or meet with their students daily or weekly.

Also, if a VCS is able to recruit a teacher or student away from a public school system, the VSC teacher is rewarded with a personal bonus for their efforts.

In comparison, there is very little transparency for VCS costs and expenditures, and currently there are disagreements on the number of computers missing from VSC inventories. Also, VSC board members will soon be able to meet virtually instead of in person where parents can meet with them on needs or concerns of their children.

As I stated earlier, I understand the need for VCS. But, I disagree with the current funding formula of VCS that’s profiting so many at the cost of taxpayers and at the expense of the education of our children who are attending traditional public schools.

We did pass House Bill 1395 this year, and the governor just signed it into law. That will require VCS financial information to be more transparent to the public. This is a good start.

Over the next several weeks, I will continue to gain information on the funding difference between VSC and traditional public common education and educational outcomes and try to determine if there’s public support for a further look at a possible interim study for VCS to have a different funding formula than they enjoy today.

I have total support for the VCS to be funded for their educational costs, but not at the same levels of traditional public schools that have to pay for buildings, buses, meals and all other things associated with public instruction of our state’s masses.

State Rep. Lundy Kiger represents House District 3 in Leflore County in the Oklahoma House of Representatives.

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