Education: Why Are We Battling Innovation?

Jun 14, 2010, 13:06 ET from California Virtual Academies

SAN MATEO, Calif., June 14 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Statement by Don Burbulys, President of California Virtual Academy at San Mateo Board of Directors, responding to a recent article by The Bay Citizen that also appeared in the Bay area edition of The New York Times:

A recent article by The Bay Citizen on the California Virtual Academies titled, "With Public Money, Online Charters Grow," contained numerous errors and omissions.  The article also appeared in the Bay area edition of The New York Times.  It requires many clarifications and corrections.

California Virtual Academies (CAVA), made up of nine non-profit public charter schools, is operated by independent, non-profit 501c3 charter school boards. Just like school boards from districts across the country, the CAVA boards govern the schools, meet and vote on critical issues, oversee the work of the public school teachers, have fiduciary responsibility for the use of taxpayer funds in the schools, and ensure that the schools are meeting their obligations and accountability requirements under state and federal law.

The article refers to online schools as an "unorthodox education," yet tens of thousands of parents throughout the state of California and across the U.S. choose online public schools because it best serves their children's learning needs.  Many students require individualized learning methods which CAVA and its online education provider K12 Inc. excel at delivering.  

The article failed to address the critically important work that CAVA's teachers do on behalf of our students.   At CAVA, students interact with highly qualified, California-credentialed teachers and communicate regularly through e-mail, telephone, online meetings and synchronous (live, real-time) class sessions.  CAVA teachers provide daily instruction, manage the learning process of their students, review work, assign grades, and oversee the academic programs of their students.  In the virtual class setting, teachers and parents can work together as partners to provide the best education environment and learning methods.  Teachers, who live and work in the same community as their students, also participate in activities conducted through class fieldtrips, school activities and academic events with students.  

In addition to providing individualized learning, CAVA provides the structure, administrative support, oversight, accountability, and state testing required of all public schools.  California law mandates that teachers receive written work samples from their students for review multiple times throughout the year. And like any public school student, CAVA students must take and pass state-mandated tests in a proctored setting.

The article's most egregious errors centered on finances and accountability.  While CAVA and other virtual schools across the state do not have overhead costs that brick-and-mortar schools face – such as buses, buildings, or cafeterias – virtual schools spend more on technology, online courses and content, education materials, and other costs directly related to student instruction.  Plus, the schools have teacher and staff costs that are similar to traditional schools.

Numerous studies have examined the costs associated with high-quality public online schools.  A recent independent study conducted on behalf of the Bell South Foundation concluded the costs of full-time online public schools are about the same as those in traditional public schools.  

Nevertheless, (and contrary to claims in The Bay Citizen article) CAVA students receive less total funding than their counterparts in traditional brick-and-mortar public schools. According to data from the California Department of Education, total average per pupil funding for all public schools for the '08-09 school year was approximately $8,700.  Total per pupil funding for CAVA during '08-09 was about $5,900.  Unlike traditional public schools, CAVA does not receive local tax revenue or funds for capital outlays, therefore CAVA receives a total amount of public funding that is significantly lower than what traditional public schools get.

Additionally, California law (SB 740) mandates the avenues in which public independent study charter schools must allocate revenue. For example, the CAVA schools are required to spend at least 75-80% of total funding on instruction and at least 35-40% of its total funding on certificated personnel. And even though CAVA's education model is different from traditional schools, it is still required by statute to maintain the student-to-teacher ratio found in classrooms of 25:1.

CAVA-San Mateo's budgets demonstrate that over 86% of our funding pays for costs directly associated with student instruction.  CAVA schools undergo annual independent audits, with results provided to the 501c3 charter board, California state department of education, state controller's office, county offices of education, and authorizing school district.  CAVA abides by all the regulations and reporting requirements.  Our accountability measures are as strong, if not stronger, as any other public school.

CAVA is special because it has been an education success for thousands of students across the state.  Although CAVA receives less funding than traditional public schools and must follow strict spending requirements, it has been able to offer students important and popular courses – art, music, world languages, AP, and many other electives – that are often not available, or have been cut, in other schools.  It is why CAVA is the education choice for more and more families every year and why it remains so popular with parents, students and teachers.

Public virtual charter schools like CAVA reach students by catering to individual learning styles and needs.  Now all types of students are given the opportunity to reach their potential.  Expanding public school options and innovative education techniques are investments in students worth applauding, not distorting.  

SOURCE California Virtual Academies