Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s budget proposal harms some of the state’s most at-risk students. The executive budget includes a 20% cut in funding for students enrolled in online charter schools. And it creates an additional hurdle for disadvantaged students who need access to high-quality education opportunities.
Online charter schools offer critical services to students who often have no other options. They serve a greater percentage of low-income and minority students compared to conventional districts. The number of students attending online schools has steadily increased since the pandemic-era school closures.
Even after the pandemic, online charter schools provide a lifeline to many of the state’s most at-risk students. Factors such as homelessness, medical illness, mental illness, pregnancy, bullying and fear for personal safety prevent many students from attending school in a conventional district. The option to enroll in an online program from anywhere in the state gives these students the opportunity for schooling in spite of challenging circumstances.
The governor’s budget cut would deny many of these students access to critical services. Online charter schools allow thousands of Michigan students to overcome barriers to an equitable education. These barriers include lack of technology access, cost of private schools, transportation, health issues, inflexible school schedules and a lack of individualized support. Online charter schools give students from all backgrounds and districts an option that breaks down these barriers.
One online charter school, Michigan Online School, serves homeless and low-income students by providing them with Chromebooks and hotspots. These devices enable students to access the Internet and participate in online coursework from any location. During the pandemic, technology coaches made house calls to give in-person technology support to students in need.
Many online charter schools also arrange transportation for students all over Michigan to participate in state testing and other in-person events. These schools also allow more flexible learning options for students who can’t meet fixed class schedules for medical or other reasons. And online charter schools provide individual support in the virtual environment. Michigan Online School and Michigan International Prep School provide one-on-one mentoring by teachers and staff. Michigan International Prep School’s learning labs even provide an in-person option.
Clearly, online charter schools provide a promising alternative for students seeking to overcome constraints posed by conventional school districts. Unfortunately, the governor’s proposed budget cut would limit funding to $7,687 for each student enrolled in a full-time online charter school.
This is the only cut in the governor’s executive budget. All government schools – including online programs offered by conventional districts – would receive a record 5% increase in per-pupil funding. This translates to $9,608, or an extra $458 for each student attending a conventional district school in 2023-2024.
The budget cut represents a move from funding students to funding institutions. The current funding formula helps ensure schools receive equal funding regardless of location or school type. Charter schools already lack many funding sources available to district schools. A further reduction would only make accessing their critical services more difficult for students in need.
By targeting students who attend online charter schools, the budget cut also sends the message that they should be treated differently than students who attend all other types of district schools. Put simply, it is a discriminatory move that places less value on students enrolled in these schools.
Students need alternative options when conventional districts don’t meet their needs. Online charter schools provide this option for thousands of the state’s vulnerable students. A cut to funding would only create more barriers for students who need these schools.
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