(The Center Square) – More than 21,000 Michigan online charter public school students face about a $30 million funding cut under Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s 2024 proposed budget.
Each online charter public school student would lose at least $1,463 for a total cut of $30.7 million under the budget because Whitmer says online schools have less brick and mortar facilities.
Amy Dunlap, board chair, Public School Options-MI and staff member at Michigan International Prep School, said that many online schools have buildings where students can come in for extra help or take tests.
However, public online charters schools can’t levy bond millages or sinking fund dollars to pay for building, so they’re limited to spending per-pupil dollars.
Concerned parents, students, and advocates met in Lansing on Thursday to oppose the funding cut in the record $79 billion budget that aims to spend all but $250 million of the state’s $9.2 billion surplus.
Meanwhile, the budget suggests increasing funding for traditional public school students by 5% from $9,150 annually to $9,607.
Online charter public schools, on the other hand, would only receive $7,687 per student. Funding per traditional online public school students would be the same as traditional public school in-person students.
Kofi Aaku, a 12th-grade online public school student at Michigan International Prep School, says he chose to attend a full-time online school after a 2017 car crash changed his life and caused him ongoing back pain.
“I see no reason why my way of learning should be undermined, and that’s exactly what this funding cut would do,” Aaku said.
Serena Meinke, another online public school student at Michigan International Prep School , said she chose to attend online school when she became a caretaker for her little brother. She said it was a “gamechanger.”
“As a virtual learner, there are a number of tools, people, and systems that help guarantee my success as a student,” Meinke said. “Flexibility is something that I have benefited greatly from having the ability to learn at my own pace and create the schedule that works best for me, has allowed me to feel empowered and in control of my education.”
James Middleditch, director of Programs at WAY Michigan, an online charter school in Detroit, said about 90% of his students are considered at-risk. About 50% are students of color.
Middleditch said the funding cut would be about $1,900 per student for his school that serves about 165 students.
“That would mean $316,000 that will be removed from our budget that would include needing to lay off staff, change our ability to provide supplemental programs for math and literacy, and it will affect instructional strategy to reduce tutoring,” Middleditch said.
The school has seen 272 graduates over nine years. Middleditch said that in the 2019-2020 school year, his school received $9,610 per student. Meanwhile, Detroit Public Schools received about $17,421 per student.
“So we are already between $3,200 and $7,800 less per student, and now you want to cut us even more. That just doesn’t seem right to me,” Middleditch said.
Advocates say that 72% of students in full-time online charter public schools are economically disadvantaged, more than the 52% statewide public school average.
Also, full-time online charter public schools serve a higher percentage of African American and students of color than traditional public schools.