If an Oregon child attends a regular brick-and-mortar public school or the school’s online program, parents cover any outside extra-curricular expenses. But if a child attends an Oregon virtual public charter school there’s a chance parents will get a kick-back of up to $2,000 per year for personal use.
That’s not right.
Virtual public charter schools don’t collect tuition from their students. Instead, the schools are supported by money diverted from the state’s traditional brick-and-mortar public schools. The Oregon Department of Education distributes State School Fund money to each school district that sponsors a charter school; the district keeps a portion and passes on the rest to the charter school.
Oregon law provides that a sponsoring district must pass on to its charter school at least 80 percent of its per-pupil grant for K-8 students and 95 percent of its per pupil grant for grade 9-12 students.
Marcola SD 79J in Lane County, for example, sponsors the virtual public charter school, Teach-NW. The State School Fund gave the district $2,348,684.27 for the 2018-2019 school year to support the sponsorship and the district passed on most of that money to Teach-NW.
But Teach-NW didn’t spend all the money.
Instead, the school set aside $2000 per student for “allotments” which parents were allowed to spend in support of their child’s education. A family with three children at Teach-NW, for example, got access to extra allotments totaling $6,000 each year.
According to Teach-NW, “Allotments can be used to cover academic materials such as textbooks, school supplies, curriculum materials, approved instructional programs (i.e. music, dance), enrichment experiences, educational subscriptions, educational fees, tutoring services, some athletics fees and equipment, field trips, and internet expenses as approved by the student’s Educational Facilitator (assigned teacher).” Families can access the money through a debit card or request reimbursements from the school.”
Some parents say the $2,000 allotments are a key factor in enrolling their children at Teach-NW. Other parents deny the allotments are a factor in enrollment decisions. But as satirist and cultural critic H. L. Mencken put it, “When somebody says it’s not about the money, it’s about the money.”
The practical effect of this arrangement is that parents who choose to send their children to Teach-NW, rather than their local brick-and-mortar public school or their school district’s online program, get a substantial extra financial package. And it’s all paid for with taxpayer dollars.