K-12 virtual learning has a promising future. It has
been shown already to match or exceed average student outcome expectations, and
parents and students are signing up for virtual courses at an increasing rate.
From a policy perspective, online learning also
promises something relatively rare in the long history of taxpayer-funded K-12
public instruction: providing the same or better service at a lower cost.
Universities have demonstrated the ability to achieve this, and recent analyses
of several states that have expanded online opportunities show that these
systems save money.
Indeed, under the right circumstances, school districts
could immediately start saving using virtual learning. If districts need to
create a new class, they are often left with only two options: hire a new
teacher (part-time or full-time), or reassign one of their current teachers
(who must be properly certified and below the contractual maximum work load).
Both these options will add significant costs. Reassigning a current teacher —
probably the least expensive option — could cost about $10,000, based on the
average Michigan teacher salary and common labor contract rules. Hiring a new,
full-time teacher would cost most districts at least $50,000.[*]
If, on the other
hand, the districts can avoid creating a new class by enrolling students in virtual
learning courses, they could conceivably save thousands of dollars. Based on
the average course fees charged by MVS and GenNET, for instance, districts
could enroll 10 students in year-long Michigan Merit Curriculum courses for
$5,500 or less. Districts might have to shift some personnel around if they
plan to facilitate this virtual learning in school district-owned buildings,
but it is likely the districts would still save money compared to the cost of
hiring or reassigning instructors to teach these courses.
The demand for additional educational opportunities in
this state has consistently grown. Virtual learning appears to be a flexible,
affordable and effective way of helping satisfy this demand.
[*] The Michigan Association of School Boards reports that the
average starting teacher salary in Michigan was $36,798 in 2009-2010, and the
average teacher salary in Michigan in 2008-2009 was $62,237, according to the
Michigan Department of Education. “Teacher Facts and Figures” (Michigan
Association of School Boards, 2009), http://erin.masb.org/ index.cfm?mod=teacherfacts
(accessed Jan. 24, 2011); “2008-09 Bulletin 1014” (Michigan Department of
Education, 2009), http://www.michigan. gov/documents/mde/b1014-09_319752_7.pdf
(accessed Jan. 24, 2011). In addition to the teacher’s salary, the school
district would need to pay medical benefits, retirement benefits and various