Google The Unplanned Homeschooler: The hidden costs of free virtual public school

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

The hidden costs of free virtual public school

You've heard the saying, "All magic comes with a price!" That's what I think of every time I hear about a family choosing virtual public school because it is free.

Yes, the state-run online public school options are usually free of charge, come with a full set of curriculum and certified teachers to instruct your kids. Many even include money to spend on extracurricular activities or computers for your kids to use at home. It's hard to ignore the extensive prize packages that accompany enrollment in a virtual public school.

But like magic, all education comes with a price, and what appears to be free always comes with strings attached. Here are just some of the hidden costs of virtual public school.

Your autonomy

Who can put a price on freedom? As a traditional homeschooler in most states, you are free to choose the curriculum you want to use, and you can choose how to implement it. Most states allow you to set your own schedule, day to day and throughout the year. You can even choose whether or not to participate in standardized testing in many states, and which standardized test to use in most that require testing.

By enrolling in a free virtual public school, you give up most, if not all of these freedoms. Your curriculum is chosen for you, or must be approved if you are allowed to make some choices on your own. Your schedule may have some flexibility, but for the most part is set by the state. You don't have the option to refuse standardized testing. Your kids are legally public school students, and you abide by their rules.

Your privacy

Is Big Brother watching you? If you're plugged into an online public school, the answer to that question is yes. You have a state presence in your home, either via cameras and microphones or actual in person visits multiple times per year.

Homeschoolers don't have to deal with this sort of government intrusion, and for the most part, neither do traditional public schoolers. But virtual public schoolers sacrifice a lot of privacy for the sake of free curriculum.

Your passions

One of the greatest things about homeschooling is the ability to follow your passions. If your kid is crazy about weather, they can study meteorology to their heart's content. If they are a competitive gymnast, they can schedule their school time around practices and meets, learning year round and on the go. You can even share your passions with your children, incorporating your interests into their classes on a wide variety of levels.

Unfortunately, in virtual public school, as in traditional public school, the classes are generally aligned to standards that fit the many, not the one, and there is little time to pursue individual interests when the schedule is packed full with required courses.

Your money

One cost many parents forget when enrolling in a free virtual public school is the price of travel accommodations, and lost vacation days if you are a working parent. Many virtual schools are set in small districts, where families must go each year to participate in multiple days of testing.

I've had parents contact me in Oklahoma, asking how they could avoid the expense of travel and overnight stays associated with the required testing in their virtual schools, but as a homeschool group leader, I couldn't help them. If their particular online public school required on site testing, that's what they had to do.

Now, this may not seem like a lot, but for many families, especially those with young children, the cost of one single overnight trip to a testing facility may cost as much as a whole year of curriculum if they were homeschooling. Especially when you consider that there are low cost options for curriculum, such as completely free resources online and big, yearly curriculum sales like the Build Your Bundle - Homeschool Edition beginning on May 16. (affiliate link)

It's your decision

When deciding whether to enroll in a virtual public school or whether to homeschool your kids, be sure to factor in ALL the costs. Homeschooling may not be completely free, but it can be very inexpensive, and as a homeschooler you retain your autonomy, your privacy and the ability to freely pursue your passions.

As a virtual public schooler, your school choice may be free of charge, and may even come with some added perks, but make sure you are okay with the hidden costs, too, before you sign on the dotted line.

And make sure to check out this post if you want to know more about why virtual public school is not legally considered homeschooling in most states. It's important to know where you stand under the law, whichever option you choose for your children's education.

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