Over the last couple of weeks there have been multiple articles written about rural communities and school choice. From the Austin American-Statesman to U.S. News and World Report and from the Huffington Post to Salon, education for rural students is at the forefront of water-cooler conversations.
For many rural communities, traditional charter school options simply don’t exist. Most rural families have no access to charter schools, most of which are located in densely populated urban communities.
Digital learning has bridged that divide. Full-time, statewide online schools provide public school choice options to rural communities, with no geographic constraints. In states where traditional charter schools are prevalent, online public charter schools are the only viable option for families in most counties. Without these schools, families in these communities would have no ability to access any charter school or alternative public schools.
As you can see in the map of Georgia below, charter schools (red dots) are primarily available in the Atlanta area. However, students who attend virtual schools (green dots) live throughout the state.
As with most hot topics, Twitter has been buzzing with talking points on the issue. Two of my colleagues pushed back, pointing out how online schools are serving a population often missed by some of our friends in the education reform space.
Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Columbus are three metropolitan areas in Ohio that offer a plethora of community school options. Again, as you can see from the map below, students enrolled in online charter school (“e-schools” as they are called in Ohio) live in every corner of the state and take advantage of this option.
Parents like Linda Bates in Cheyenne, Wyoming and Annie Rutschilling in Jacksonville, Alabama have children succeeding in a full-time online school. Eleventh grader Grace Belize Anderson of Devils Tower, Wyoming has been afforded life-changing opportunities because of the flexibility of her online school. She has been named Wyoming Youth Volunteer of the Year and is currently participating in the U.S. Senate Youth Page Program.
As Secretary DeVos continues to shape the national education agenda – and as state legislatures continue to debate education policies – policymakers should strive to expand education options and make school choice accessible and equal to all. Options should transcend county lines to every county and every community in the state. Online schools offer access to a public education that meets parents and students exactly where they are, regardless of their zip code.