Two days after voting to pursue hiring a public relations firm to market the online schools sponsored by the Statewide Virtual Charter School Board, the agency director says the project may be scrapped.

The board Tuesday approved moving forward with a public awareness campaign to promote the agency and its online educational programs. The board sponsors five virtual charter schools, though one is closing, and operates a supplemental course program for students in local school districts.

Proposals were to include plans to advertise on social media, traditional media such as television, radio and billboards, or both, at a cost of up to $250,000. Executive Director Rebecca Wilkinson brought up the plan, saying it is a “great idea,” and board President John Harrington seemed to agree. He said part of the board’s role is to educate families on all the online options available to them.

“If one charter school flooded the airwaves, parents may think that’s the only choice,” said Harrington, who is CEO of Funds for Learning, a consulting firm for schools and libraries participating in the federal E-rate funding program. “It’s not our job to assist individual charter schools, but we do have an obligation to the public.”

The board voted 4-0 to submit a request for proposals to the Office of Management and Enterprise Services; one board member was absent.

Two days later, on Thursday, Wilkinson said the agency would not move forward with the project and she will ask the board to reconsider at its May meeting.

Wilkinson said she wants the board to rethink whether the public awareness campaign is a wise use of agency resources and fits within the board’s mission.

Virtual education is growing segment in Oklahoma, with a combined 13,000 students this year. Each school receives state funds based on student enrollment, and each is run by a for-profit company.

Virginia-based K12 Inc., the nation’s largest online school operator, has two schools in Oklahoma: Insight School of Oklahoma and the Oklahoma Virtual Charter Academy. The company spent $31.2 million on advertising in fiscal year 2016, according to its annual report.

Epic, the state’s largest virtual charter school, is managed by Oklahoma City-based Epic Youth Services LLC. Oklahoma Connections Academy is one of more than 30 operated nationwide by Baltimore-based Connections Academy.

The Statewide Virtual Charter School Board is a state agency created in 2012; it has three employees. The agency is funded through an administrative fee—currently 3 percent—assessed on the each school’s state aid allocation.

The agency already has a contract with Jones PR—at a cost of $65,000 for the first year—and the public awareness campaign would have been in addition to that.


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Jennifer Palmer

Jennifer Palmer has been a reporter with Oklahoma Watch since 2016 and covers education. Contact her at (405) 325-2084 or jpalmer@oklahomawatch.org. Follow her on Twitter @jpalmerOKC