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Opinion | Virtual schools are a lifeline for students, we can’t cut funding

For growing numbers of Michigan students and families, virtual learning is much more than just a fleeting pandemic necessity. The convenience, customization and flexibility of being able to get a high-quality education from experienced and dedicated state-certified teachers in the comfort and security of their own home is a true game-changer.

Carrie Meyers
Carrie Meyers is a special education case manager for 7th graders at Michigan Great Lakes Virtual Academy — a full-time, online public school for K–12 students. With over 20 years of experience, she has worked with students in virtual and traditional classrooms.

For some, virtual learning offers a chance to learn at a pace and in a setting that best meets their own personal and educational needs. For others, especially those who suffer from serious physical or mental health challenges, it’s an absolute necessity, providing learning opportunities that would be difficult — or even impossible — for them to have access to in a traditional classroom setting.

Unfortunately, for the more than 21,000 students who count on virtual learning, the funding that makes many of those programs possible is currently up in the air.

The financial uncertainty is due to a proposed 20 percent budget cut for full-time virtual schools. State funding is particularly important for virtual schools, because unlike their traditional brick-and-mortar counterparts, they do not receive any funding from local tax revenues.

As a special education teacher who has worked in both traditional classrooms and in virtual learning environments, I have an intimate understanding of how important these online opportunities are for so many. My concern is not only that thousands of students and families would be negatively affected by these proposed funding cuts, but that these budget priorities reflect a deeper misreading of the role and value of virtual education.

I wish that the Michigan lawmakers who will be voting on these cuts could see what I do. I wish they could see the extent to which virtual education has empowered so many of my students and given them the confidence and self-esteem boost they need to thrive — not just academically, but also socially and emotionally.

I wish they could see how many of my students have blossomed and flourished in a virtual environment. I wish they could hear from the parents and families I speak with that talk about what a blessing and burden lifted it is to know that their child is safe at home and still able to receive a top-notch education. 

I wish they could visit with the countless students who experienced challenges with bullying, or who suffer from crippling anxiety in a traditional school environment.

I wish they could see how much better students with behavioral challenges or special education needs do when they can receive specialized instruction, maintain focus and minimize  distractions in a virtual classroom.

And I wish they could talk to the teachers in traditional schools who are better able to teach their entire class when students who may be a distraction or require extra attention are getting what they need to succeed in a virtual environment.

There is no better example of the extraordinary value of what online resources and
flexibility provide than that of one of my students who has cerebral palsy. As a virtual
learner, she can make sure her physical and mental needs are met and learn from the
comfort of her own home — all while still receiving an outstanding education that will
position her for personal and professional success not only today, but for her entire life.

The truth is that the importance of these programs is growing — not diminishing. We
should be expanding, or, at the very least, preserving vital funds for virtual learners. 

The last thing we should be doing — ironically, the last thing we can afford — is to cut critical

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