Online schools spend millions to attract students

By Greg Toppo, USA TODAY, November 28, 2012

Virtual, for-profit K-12 schools have spent millions in taxpayer dollars on advertising, an analysis shows.

K12 is one of several online schools spending millions in advertising.(Photo: K12)

If your local public high school has empty seats, the district might lay off teachers. If it’s operated by K12 Inc., the company will take out an ad on CNN, The Cartoon Network or VampireFreaks.com and fill those seats.

An analysis by USA TODAY finds that online charter schools have spent millions in taxpayer dollars on advertising over the past five years, a trend that shows few signs of abating. The primary and high schools — operated online by for-profit companies but with local taxpayer support — are buying TV, radio, newspaper and Internet ads to attract students, even as brick-and-mortar public schools in the districts they serve face budget crunches.

Virtual schools have become lightning rods for critics who say their operators are profiting from students’ dissatisfaction with neighborhood schools, but don’t produce better results. Supporters say the schools, operating in more than 30 states, are giving kids and families second chances.

Nationwide, about 275,000 K-12 students attend school online full-time, according to the Evergreen Education Group, a Colorado consulting firm. Many virtual students are former home-schoolers taking advantage of the schools’ public funding — virtual schools typically get most of the per-pupil allowance that a local school does.

The USA TODAY analysis finds that 10 of the largest for-profit operators have spent an estimated $94.4 million on ads since 2007. The largest, Virginia-based K12 Inc., has spent about $21.5 million in just the first eight months of 2012….

continue reading at USA TODAY

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