Report: Online Schools Use Tax Dollars to Gain Students

By Michele Molnar — November 29, 2012 1 min read

Parents are accustomed to being advertising targets for companies wanting to sell clothes, toys and activities for their children, but a new USA Today report shows that parents increasingly are being targeted as “online education consumers” for their children—by businsses using taxpayer dollars.

Writer Greg Toppo reports 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.”

It’s not just the parents who are getting the ad messages. Kids are clearly being targeted, too. Toppo points out that Herndon, Va.-based K12 Inc. “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.’”

K12 Inc., the country’s largest provider of K-12 virtual schooling, contracts with local school districts, which use state funds to pay the company to manage virtual schools. Education Week’s Jason Tomassini writes that, “The company has been both a benefactor and a controversial entity of the virtual schools movement that is gaining steam as technology and personalized learning becomes more accepted in schools, but is facing questions about its accountability.”

In September, Tomassini covered the state of Florida’s investigation into K12 on allegations that it used non-certified teachers in violation of state law and covered it up by asking teachers to sign class rosters of students they didn’t teach.

K12 is not the only virtual school standing in line to influence parents as decision makers for their children’s education, but it has become the highest-profile one and, as a publicly traded company, it must disclose financials.

Toppo interviewed Kevin Welner, a University of Colorado professor who tracks virtual schools. The professor “estimated that K12 is on pace this year to spend about $340 per student on advertising, or about 5.2 percent of its per-pupil public expenditures.”

Do you think parents understand how virtual schools are trying to influence them—and their children—to “buy” online education?

A version of this news article first appeared in the K-12 Parents and the Public blog.

Let us know what you think!

We’re looking for feedback on our new site to make sure we continue to provide you the best experience.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Future of Work Webinar
Digital Literacy Strategies to Promote Equity
Our new world has only increased our students’ dependence on technology. This makes digital literacy no longer a “nice to have” but a “need to have.” How do we ensure that every student can navigate
Content provided by
Mathematics Online Summit Teaching Math in a Pandemic
Attend this online summit to ask questions about how COVID-19 has affected achievement, instruction, assessment, and engagement in math.
School & District Management Webinar Examining the Evidence: Catching Kids Up at a Distance
As districts, schools, and families navigate a new normal following the abrupt end of in-person schooling this spring, students’ learning opportunities vary enormously across the nation. Access to devices and broadband internet and a secure

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Data Analyst
New York, NY, US
New Visions for Public Schools
Project Manager
United States
K12 Inc.
High School Permanent Substitute Teacher
Woolwich Township, NJ, US
Kingsway Regional School District
MS STEM Teacher
Woolwich Township, NJ, US
Kingsway Regional School District

Read Next

Education Obituary In Memory of Michele Molnar, EdWeek Market Brief Writer and Editor
EdWeek Market Brief Associate Editor Michele Molnar, who was instrumental in launching the publication, succumbed to cancer.
5 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: December 9, 2020
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: Stories You May Have Missed
A collection of articles from the previous week that you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: Stories You May Have Missed
A collection of stories from the previous week that you may have missed.
8 min read