virtual learning

Are Charter and Virtual Schools Better for the Earth?


The ever-growing problem of climate change requires innovative solutions. Although technology and research reveal new paths forward, instructing future generations is essential to maintaining a healthy planet. Parents deciding between charter and virtual schools may wonder which option is better for the earth. These are a few factors to consider before submitting enrollment paperwork.

What Are Charter Schools?

Parents often choose to send their children to charter schools based on the school’s guiding charter or contract. It outlines the academic goals and mission of the school that can be more specific than public alternatives.

Charter schools receive public funding and are tuition-free, but private boards govern each school, so the organization follows its charter outline. Additionally, an authorizer such as a university or state agency can shut down a charter school, if it’s not abiding by its charter guidance.

Many charter schools prioritize innovation through educational opportunities and teaching styles unavailable in public grade schools. It depends on the organization’s founders and what its mission statement promises. As of the 2021 school year, charter schools taught 7.5% of public school students in most U.S. states.

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What Are Virtual Schools?

Cyber or virtual schools are academic organizations that teach most or all of their available courses online. Unlike traditional homeschooling programs, virtual school students attend real-time classes via video conferencing and complete their assignments online.

Parents may enroll their children in virtual schools to get more involved in their lessons, match them with academically challenging material or create custom school hours around their lifestyles. Kids who thrive in independent settings may also do better in virtual schools because they can work at their own pace and handle their coursework without a teacher’s in-person supervision.

Virtual schools may receive state or federal funding, if they’re charter organizations. If the school operates within a religious or other privatized group, they will charge tuition to keep it open.

Environmental Benefits of Both Schools

There are a few notable differences between the environmental impact of traditional schools versus charter and virtual organizations. Consider these factors when deciding which is best for your sustainably-minded family.

1. Increased Funding Recruits Knowledgeable Teachers

Virtual schools run by private organizations may have more funding than public alternatives. If the organization is large, administrators can afford to hire more knowledgeable teachers with more experience or training. Those teachers may specialize in climate education, providing students with more knowledge about environmental challenges and strategies.

It’s crucial to note this won’t apply to all charter schools. Charter schools receive public funding based on enrollment numbers and teach a small percentage of public school students, so their teacher pay is generally low. The average charter school teacher makes $48,074 annually, whereas a public school teacher earns $66,397 yearly in high-earning states.

2. Virtual Classes Eliminate School Bus Emissions

Public school students ride buses each morning and afternoon. Those buses burn diesel, producing 5 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) gas annually. Virtual and online charter schools eliminate the need for buses because students attend at home. It would significantly decrease a student’s carbon footprint, even if parents drive their children to in-person charter classes in electric vehicles.

3. Individual Responsibility Turns Into Action

Many charter schools emphasize the role of individual accountability for meaningful societal change. Virtual schools also teach students they can take control of their life’s path with skills like time management and deadline adherence. The increased importance of independence empowers students, who can use their experience to take control of their environmental impact.

4. Virtual Schools Reduce Food Waste

Research shows in-person public schools create 530,000 tons of food waste annually because students don’t finish their provided cafeteria meals. The breakfast and lunch waste turns into gases and environmental pollution when it reaches landfills.

When students attend online courses, they can make their favorite meals for breakfast and lunch. Ideally, they would make only portion sizes and foods they’ll finish because they control their own meal prep. 

5. Custom Curriculums Can Prioritize Environmental Lessons

Charter and schools may be better for the earth if they create custom lessons about the environment students wouldn’t otherwise learn in public classrooms. These schools don’t have to abide by state-regulated curriculums all the time, especially if they operate with private funding.

If these schools have environmental values written in their mission statements, they can offer courses with unique ecological focuses. Students may learn more about things like climate change, individual carbon footprints and positive environmental strategies compared to public school curriculums designed for standardized exams at the end of each school year.

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Consider the Effects of Charter and Virtual Schools

Virtual and charter schools can be better for the earth than public schools. Students may learn more about the planet if the organizations have mission statements, lesson plans and educational opportunities addressing the environment. Other factors like less food waste and little to no commuting will also affect how each school helps the earth compared to traditional schools.

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