For online learning companies such as K12 and Connections Learning, both of whom are poised to dip deeply into Maine education funds to the tune of $6,500 per student — it is definitely about the money. For politicians like Paul LePage, who has already benefited in the form of campaign contributions, it is very much about the money.
LePage and Bowen will try to sell virtual schools to us under the guise of “choice,” but it’s still about the money. For them it is about money “saved,” from the state education budget, which can augment the Tea Party goal of “downsizing” government.
If money were not an issue, there would be less to object to. The point is that Maine public schools are already underfunded. How then does it make sense to create a parallel system that will bleed money from the original system without reducing its costs?
Proponents of virtual schools might tout the $6,500 per pupil cost charged by online learning companies versus the $10,000 plus per student pupil incurred by students attending Maine public schools — a potential savings of $3,500 per student.
These numbers don’t tell the whole story, however. A district that loses ten students to virtual schools still operates the same number of buses, employs the same number of teachers, and heats the same number of classrooms. So unless the school itself is closed, where are the savings?
Then, there’s more. According to the provided figures, a total virtual school enrollment of 4,000 students would cost the state $26 million. This money would be going to out-of-state corporations and would be exempt from state income tax. As explained above, this may not allow a significant reduction of teachers, but even if the state could cut 400 teachers (Maine currently has a 10:1 student to teacher ratio), the savings on salaries would be less than $20 million. In this scenario, even after cutting 400 teachers, the state cost for education would actually increase by more than $6 million.
And then it gets worse. Four hundred teachers are now unemployed, leading to a loss of $15 – 20 million from the state economy. If you include the multiplier effects gained from those teachers spending a significant portion of their salaries in Maine, the number is likely closer to $25 million. Then add in the amount the state will lose in income, sales, and property taxes — and the number would likely balloon above $30 million.
Is this really a good time for Maine to be outsourcing jobs?
As we will outline tomorrow, the LePage plan doesn’t make any kind of educational sense, and it doesn’t make any kind of economic sense either.
(Part two of a five part series on the dangers of allowing online learning companies to gain a foothold in Maine. For more information, please see Colin Woodard’s recent article in the Portland Press Herald and the recent Portland Press Herald editorial.)