An inside look at the additional costs of educating students at a cyber charter school

Buddy Moorehouse
Jan 31, 2023 1:55:31 PM

When it comes to base per-pupil dollars, the State of Michigan takes the correct and fair approach when it comes to funding public school students. Whatever type of school a student attends, or whatever grade they’re in, they’re valued equally by the state.

There are those, though, who feel that students who learn best in an online environment should somehow be valued less. Cyber charter schools don’t have brick-and-mortar buildings for their students, they say. They cost less to educate, they say. Why should they be worth the same as other students?

Not only is that thinking unfair; it’s inaccurate. Cyber charter schools have a host of additional costs that brick-and-mortar schools might not have. Tonya Lowry is the superintendent of the Uplift Michigan Online School, a cyber charter school that has students across the state. She explained some of the additional costs that cyber charters have – starting with technology.

“Every student at our school receives a computer and some students may require additional tech, such as VR (virtual reality) headsets,” Lowry said. “The costs of maintaining those computers, including reclamation and tracking, is a huge chunk of our budget. We have to send a computer to each student and track the computer. If a student withdraws, we have to expend resources getting the computer back. We also have to pay for extra online security.”

Lowry said that many of those same costs apply to providing technology for every teacher across the state. “The technology costs for staff are also extensive,” she said. “We have to supply extra monitors, cameras, tablets, mice, keyboards, phones – everything.”

While Uplift Michigan doesn’t have brick-and-mortar facilities for students, it does have to find (and pay for) facilities for testing and graduation, as well as professional development for staff.

Because of the nature of their student body – with K-12 students across the state experiencing a variety of challenges – Uplift Michigan also has staff members dedicated to helping with more than just academics.

“We have family/community liaisons and relationship managers who work to re-engage disengaged students, as well as provide community resources to families in need,” Lowry said.

And the curriculum expenses for a cyber charter are also extensive.

“Buying a paper curriculum that can be copied and reused for years is nothing in comparison to curriculum costs year over year for cybers,” she said.

When you add all of that to the costs that all schools have, it’s substantial. It’s also easy to see that funding cyber students equally isn’t just fair; it’s necessary.

Families choose a cyber charter school for their student for a variety of reasons. It could be because they’ve been bullied or marginalized in their former school. It could be because they learn best in an online environment. It could be because they live in a remote location or because they’re an elite athlete in need of a flexible school schedule.

Whatever the reason, cyber charter schools have become a lifeline for many students. And their schools are devoting a lot of resources to making sure they receive the education they deserve.

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