Online schools spend millions to attract students- Thoughts?

29 Nov

By Greg Toppo, USA TODAY

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

5:17PM EST November  28. 2012 – 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 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.

The analysis is based on ad buys and  rates compiled by Kantar Media, a New York-based provider of “media and marketing intelligence,” but the figures are only estimates. In an interview, K12 spokesman Jeff Kwitowski wouldn’t say whether the  estimates are accurate or provide actual K12  figures. But he said the company’s agreements with local school districts and charter school authorizers require K12 to publicize its programs, often over large geographic areas.

“We try our best to ensure that all families know that these options exist,” Kwitowski said. “It’s really about the parents’ choice — they’re the ones that make the decision about what school or program is the best fit for their child.”

A look at where K12 is placing the ads suggests that the company is also working to appeal to kids: Among the hundreds of  outlets tapped this year, K12 has spent an estimated $631,600 to advertise on Nickelodeon, $601,600 on The Cartoon Network and $671,400 on, a social networking site popular with teens. It also dropped  $3,000 on, which calls itself “the Web’s largest community for dark alternative culture.”

Kwitowski declined to say what percentage of K12’s per-pupil expenses goes to advertising, but Kevin Welner, a University of Colorado professor who tracks virtual schools, estimated that K12 is on pace this year to spend about $340 per student on advertising, or about 5.2% of its  per-pupil public expenditures.

Welner, who directs the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado, which has been critical of virtual schools, said that  “will put immense pressure on other schools to compete by diverting similar amounts of money to advertising.” He estimated that if every public school spent just $250 per student, taxpayers would pay more than $12 billion annually. “That’s a lot of tax money spent on something so far removed from actually helping children learn,” he said.

So far, 2012 has been a rocky year for K12, which operates in more 32 states and over 2,000 school districts. In spite of healthy earnings, it has been the subject of several investigations. The Florida Department of Education’s inspector general is looking into whether K12 illegally used uncertified teachers and whether it asked others  to lie about how many students they oversee. One U.S. lawmaker, Rep. Corrine Brown,  D-Fla., last month  called for a federal investigation into the charges.

“We’re leaders in the digital learning space and with that comes additional scrutiny,” said Kwitowski, “but we welcome that.”


Posted by on November 29, 2012 in Uncategorized


3 responses to “Online schools spend millions to attract students- Thoughts?

  1. mr25straight

    November 29, 2012 at 5:13 pm

    It’s ridiculous that schools advertise and work online for-profit means. Schools should be for the purpose of educating students not for some people to make a boat load of money. Online schooling doesn’t deliverer the face to face needs for students to grow socially but that’s a different topic. It’s terrible to see that taxpayer money is funding these for profit schools when many of our local schools are struggling to survive. Local schools couldn’t even compete with advertising because that takes money needed for other parts of the student’s needs. I have a questions to pose, what are the standards these online charter schools teach to? Each state is different right now! The schools could just be taking an easy way out, are the “teachers” that teach in different states certified to teach in those states?

    • safona

      December 2, 2012 at 11:52 pm

      Colleges are ALWAYS FOR PROFIT! It’s sad in a way, because WE end up paying the cost. literally. I believe MONEY is the only reason that we are ‘required’ to take soooooo many classes before being aboe to obtain a degree. Even when those classes ARE NOT really ‘related’ to our field of choice! It is the schools who reap the financial benefits of this scam! I bet if they had to PAY US everytime they made us pay them, alot of revisions would be made to the rules of ‘requirements’. Back to online schools: I do understand why many of these online schools are doing so much advertising. Like any new business, you often spend considerable amounts of money for advertising…it’s the Ameerican way!

  2. bananas320

    December 6, 2012 at 6:16 pm

    Charter schools spending tax dollars. Well, public schools take up about half the taxes we pay (in most places, sometimes more!). At least the charter schools are trying to offer up an alternative to public schools, and why not advertise that alternative. Many parents dont realize that they have a choice in these things anyhow. The need to advertise stems from the need for charter schools because of the disapointment of the public system. Its impossible to have a perfect system, but I dont believe that charter schools should be singled out for squandering our tax dollars when its really the public school system that saps most of our money. Regardless of if you send your kids to public or not i might add.


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