A report from the Texas Public Policy Foundation suggests that virtual education and blended learning both present the opportunity for cost savings and academic gain in Texas.
"At the K-12 level, the potential of virtual education is enormous," said the report's author, James Golsan. "Through the use of technology, students in rural districts would have access to the same educational resources as students in more populated areas. Familiarization with technology could prepare students for the work force more quickly."
While there is some concern about the ability of existing traditional institutions to convert to blended learning facilities, it's a popular model for new start ups. Virtual education is already a success story in Florida and the TPPF wants Texas to follow Florida's lead.
"Florida has one of the longest standing and most successful virtual education programs in the country," Golsan said. "As Texas seeks to improve its own digital learning environment, an examination of the Florida model provides the state with an example by which to fashion, at the very least, its public virtual education after.
Several benefits to a virtual education model are highlighted in the report, such as increased course availability and access to quality instructors. Although virtual education institutions have come under fire in the past for high dropout rates, the report believes that dropout recovery could be best served in the virtual arena.
Another highlighted benefit to Texas expanding its digital education offerings is the potential for huge cost savings. Not only does the report claim that educating students online is cheaper than traditional in-person methods, but that cost efficiencies of scale accrue more under a digital learning platform.
"Currently, Texas funds its students at a rate of around $11,000 per pupil," Golsan said. "Research suggests that full-time virtual students can be educated for between $1,500 and $3,000 less per student than those in traditional brick-and-mortar settings."
The perceived benefits of online education have recently come under scrutiny from Great Lakes Centre for Education Research and Practice, but the TPPF remains enthusiastic.
The report also recommends the easing of the course approval process for digital coursework, the promotion of private provider participation in digital learning, the creation of a scholarship program for digital learners, and the opening of the Texas Virtual School Network to private and home-schooled students.