Two teenage girls, Taylor and Chelsea, both decided to try going to school online. But they tell two very different stories about their virtual experience.
Taylor transferred from a private school and Chelsea from a public school.
Taylor is one of 240 students who learns online through Tulsa Public Schools' own program, Tulsa Learning Academy, while Chelsea signed up online with another program, Oklahoma Virtual High School through a charter school called Epic One-on-One.
More than 3,700 hundred other students across the state are enrolled in schools like it.
Taylor says teachers are watching her all the time while she's online.
And she's required to be online, and working, 25 hours a week. Whenever she gets stuck, she can go to the district's physical classroom set up inside Promenade Mall and teachers can work with her face to face.
But Chelsea only had access to teachers by instant message, email or phone. And she says when she tried to get help at Oklahoma Virtual High School, she couldn't.
"They didn't keep track of anything. They didn't call me back to help me. They didn't really do anything," Chelsea said.
She'd go weeks without logging on or doing any work, and she claims no one noticed until the end of the semester.
"They never called til the very end and said do you need help," Chelsea said.
This year, the State Department of Education is doling out about $3,000 for each student in Oklahoma. It's the same amount for a traditional student and a virtual student.
"I don't think they should hand them $3,000 dollars for each student when they're not doing anything," Chelsea said.
When Chelsea first enrolled, she got a welcome kit in the mail. Inside was a letter, a voucher for a t-shirt, a water bottle, and a mouse pad. That was it.
"Three thousand dollars is a lot of money for a water bottle and a mouse pad," Chelsea said.
Chelsea said her experience was virtually a waste of time. She finished the year without any credit.
"That kinda makes me mad that they get money because I didn't get anything," she said.
Chelsea ended up getting her GED.
While Taylor's flying through her courses and on track to graduate early.
Teacher Dennis McDonald works with online students face to face. Tulsa Public School students can come here to the Tulsa Learning Academy and get help whenever they need it.
But he questions other online schools - the ones that use for-profit providers to run them.
"To make a profit, a good profit, on a group of kids and not helping them, i have a problem with that," McDonald said.
Here's how these schools work:
Chelsea's online program is called Oklahoma Virtual High School, but for the program to get funding from the state, Chelsea has to be enrolled in one of four specific districts or charter schools. Chelsea chose Epic One-on-One Charter School. But it's actually Advanced Academics that's running the online curriculum. It's a for-profit company.
Your tax dollars go from the State Department of Education to the districts and charter schools. And the schools pay the for-profit companies. The state department of education calls them vendors.
Some school district superintendents like Tulsa's Keith Ballard are against using public dollars to pay for-profit online providers.
"I think private vendor companies who are providing education service ought not to get rich off the taxpayer money, and I think there's a lot of money changing hands," Dr. Ballard said.
Some online providers even spend money recruiting students with TV commercials.
"I would think that would send a red flag to the public," Dr. Ballard said. " They're making enough money to have huge, glitzy advertising campaign."
We asked Oklahoma State Superintendent of Schools Janet Barresi what she thinks.
"Some people take issue with the idea of using public tax dollars to pay for-profit companies to run schools," said FOX23's Janna Clark in an interview with Barresi.
"First of all, they're not running the school. They're under contract with an existing school district in order to run that," Barresi said.
But if you look at Chelsea's paperwork, all her email correspondence, even her admission letter didn't come from her charter school. It came from the vendor - Advanced Academics.
The vendor provides the online curriculum. It hires the teachers, and it pays for the commercials.
"So, it's okay with you that these vendors are making money? And is it okay with you they're making enough money to advertise?" Janna asked.
"I think it's important to have a conversation and look at balance sheets," Barresi said.
What about accountability? Barresi says virtual schools have to meet the same standards as any school.
So we checked. And Epic One-on-One Charter School is getting a "D."
When FOX23 asked the State Department of Education how much money these vendors are receiving, the state couldn't provide the information because it doesn't track it.
So FOX23 called Epic One-on-One Charter School to find out what the school pays its vendor - Advanced Academics.
The school's founder says the school pays Advanced Academics $3,000 per student. With 300 students in the program, it's getting $900,000 just through Epic Charter School.
According to Advanced Academics, it contracts with three other districts in Oklahoma and with schools in 20 different states. But the company would not tell us how many students it serves.
Epic Charter School's founder also told us the school offers another option. Students can enroll directly with Epic's One-one-One online school - with its own teachers stationed throughout the state who can visit students' homes. And Epic doesn't make any money.
So is there any point to paying for-profit vendors to run online schools when there are other options?
"Is there a necessity for these vendors?" Janna asked Baressi.
"No, I mean, we can do one of two things. We can make our own meal, or we can go to a restaurant. We have a choice," Barresi said.
"I think that's wrong. I think we ought not to profit off the education of children," Dr. Ballard said.
Some students told FOX23 they're happy with their online education. But online educators say even the best programs are not for everyone. Students have be self-motivated, and in some cases it requires more work than traditional school.
Educators say parents and students need to do your homework and make sure you understand how the program works before you enroll.
There is a bill the governor signed in June. It will a create a Virtual Charter School Board to oversee virtual education.
FOX23 spoke to the author of the bill, Senator Gary Stanislawski. He says the school board will create policies and set standards for virtual schools and will release a report next October. The report will include how students are performing, enrollment numbers, drop-out rates and evaluate the cost.